2018-12-04 00:13:17 UTC
Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Obama's Border Patrol used tear gas once a
month. Is that true?
By Miriam Valverde on Wednesday, November 28th, 2018 at 5:14 p.m.
President Donald Trump’s administration is under scrutiny for using tear
gas on migrants at the southwest border, a response that pictures show
affected young children.
But the use of tear gas at the border isn’t unique to the Trump
administration, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders
argued. Under former President Barack Obama, she said, it was routine.
Asked if the White House regretted that children were exposed to the
tear gas, Sanders said the White House "would never want children to be
in harm's way in any capacity whatsoever" and that law enforcement
officers use appropriate non-lethal force to protect themselves and
prevent an illegal rush at the border.
"And let's also not forget that this isn't the first time that
non-lethal force like this has been used," Sanders said Nov. 27. "In
fact, tear gas was used, on average, once a month during the Obama
administration for very similar circumstances."
Sanders added that the Obama administration used tear gas for "far less
circumstances because they didn't have the same numbers and the mass
rush that we're seeing in this caravan take place."
PolitiFact readers asked us to fact-check whether the Obama
administration used tear gas on migrants on average once a month.
Data from the Department of Homeland Security back Sanders’ claim. But
the agency did not provide additional information to compare the
Tear gas contains chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable
to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and
skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tyler Q. Houlton, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, the
department that oversees CBP, told PolitiFact that CBP has used
2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), commonly known as tear gas,
since 2010. (A 2007 Associated Press report said Border Patrol then used
tear gas at the border to counter attacks by assailants hurling rocks,
bottles and bricks. George W. Bush was president at that time.)
DHS did not provide data on the use of tear gas during the first few
years of the Obama administration. It only offered annual data from
fiscal years 2012 to 2018. (Fiscal years start Oct. 1 and run through
Sept. 30.) So we don't know if one month with a lot of incidents threw a
certain year's total.
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The Border Patrol has used tear gas in 126 incidents since fiscal year
2012, according to the agency’s data:
According to DHS, from 2012 to 2016 (Obama’s last full fiscal year in
office), there were 79 incidents for the use of tear gas. On average,
that’s about 1.3 incidents per month.
Fiscal year 2017 includes about four months of the Obama administration,
but it’s unclear how many of the 18 incidents in which tear gas was used
in 2017 happened under Obama’s watch. (In 2017, there were an average of
1.5 incidents per month.)
Circumstances leading to use of tear gas
Thousands of migrants are at the Mexican side of the U.S-Mexico border.
They got there as part of caravans trekking from Central America and
seeking entry into the United States. Many say they want to apply for
asylum in the United States.
A share of the migrants, who are reportedly camping at a Tijuana stadium
near the Tijuana-San Diego border area, left the stadium on Nov. 25 and
marched over to the border to make their case to U.S. authorities and be
let into the United States.
However, the march "veered out of control," and "hundreds of people
tried to evade a Mexican police blockade and run toward a giant border
crossing that leads into San Diego," the New York Times reported.
Migrants threw rocks and bottles at law enforcement officers, so the
agents defended themselves with the use of tear gas, Border Patrol
How does that compare to the use of tear gas under the Obama
administration? Sanders said it was used for "very similar" and also for
"far less circumstances."
Houlton, the DHS spokesman, on Nov. 26 tweeted a 2013 article from the
San Diego Union-Tribune that said border patrol agents used "pepper
spray and other means" to force back into Mexico a group of about 100
migrants who threw rocks and bottles at agents.
PolitiFact asked immigration officials to provide more information
related to the tear gas incidents under the Obama administration, such
as specific dates, locations and circumstances. They did not provide
that information. The White House did not respond to comment.
With just the numbers provided, the similarity among the incidents is
unclear, including whether children were also affected by tear gas
dispersed during the Obama administration. A viral photo from the Nov.
25, 2018, incident shows a woman and two young children running away
from a nearby tear gas canister.
DHS said that in addition to tear gas, CBP during law enforcement
operations regularly uses, Pava Capsaicin, commonly known as pepper
spray, which also irritates the senses. Significant differences between
pepper spray and tear gas are their chemical makeup and how they are
Between 2012 and 2016, there were 434 incidents when pepper spray was
used, or an average of 7 incidents per month. DHS did not specify when
CBP began using pepper spray nor did it provide data for earlier years
of the Obama administration.
The Border Patrol used pepper spray in 533 incidents since the 2012
fiscal year, according to agency data:
Sanders said, "Tear gas was used on average once a month during the
Obama administration for very similar circumstances."
The Trump administration used tear gas on migrants at the southwest
border. Officials say the tear gas was a response to migrants throwing
rocks at border patrol agents.
Immigration officials provided data for tear gas use during the latter
years of the Obama administration, starting in 2012. That data shows an
average of 1.3 incidents per month. The circumstances of all those
incidents is unclear.
Sanders’ statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional
information. We rate it Mostly True.
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Sarah Huckabee Sanders
White House press secretary
"Tear gas was used on average once a month during the Obama
administration for very similar circumstances."
in a press briefing – Tuesday, November 27, 2018
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