Among the uncountable lies Trump has heaped on the American people, perhaps none was as pernicious as the one he told about tear gassing children at the border. The president remarked, “Why is a parent up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming and it’s going to be formed and they were running up with a child?” Later that day he said it was “a very minor form of the tear gas itself that was very safe.”
Almost immediately, the American Academy of Pediatrics called BS. In a powerful response to the tear gassing of children, they stated: “Children are uniquely vulnerable to physiological effects of chemical agents. A child’s smaller size, and more frequent number of breaths per minute and limited cardiovascular stress response compared to adults magnifies the harm of agents such as tear gas.” The organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical sub-specialists and pediatric specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults, added, “Immigrant children are still children, and they deserve our compassion and assistance. We will continue to speak out against their inhuman treatment and advocate for their safety.”
Immigrant children are still children. In a civilized nation, that should be unnecessary to say. But after decades of using other words to label these children as something less than human, it has become necessary to say it. They are not aliens. They are not illegals. They are not migrants. They are not border jumpers, grabbers, thugs, or criminals. They are still children.
So no, Mr. President, the chemical weapons you authorized and condoned to be used against those children were not safe. Whenever tear gas is used there is a risk of permanent injury or even death. The first documented use of tear gas dates back to 1914 in WWI, when Xylyl bromide was employed as an easy to use tearing agent. The effects then were the same as they are today. The gas works by irritating mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs, and causes burning, crying, sneezing, coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing, pain in the eyes, temporary blindness, excessive saliva, and skin irritation. There is nothing safe about it, and there never will be. There is a reason, Mr. President, that the use of tear gas has been prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Conventions.
In fact, the United States ratified the Geneva Protocol which banned the use of chemical and biological weapons on January 22, 1975. In 1989 and 1990, the U.S. and Soviet Union entered an agreement to both end their chemical weapons programs, including binary weapons. Mr. President, if a chemical weapons program is too inhumane for use in war between the strongest armies in the world, why is it acceptable to use on women and children on the border.
“These children are barefoot. In diapers. Choking on tear gas,” said Californian Governor-elect Gavin Newsome. These “women and children who left their lives behind-seeking peace and asylum-were met with violence and fear. That’s not my America.”
George Cassidy Payne is an independent writer, social justice activist, domestic violence counselor, and adjunct professor of philosophy.