News coming from the border between the U.S. and Mexico is rarely pleasing, but the atrocities being committed against families and children trying seek safety in America are down right atrocious. Most recently, reports of pepper spray being used on families have made headlines. And in a strong statement this week, the AAP condemned using tear gas on migrant children and their parents at the border and the message serves as an important reminder of the humanity of immigrants and the need for common decency.
News broke on Sunday, Nov. 25, that U.S. border patrol agents fired tear gas on the hundreds of migrants staging protests around the border, according to The Washington Post, and public outcries quickly ensued. After several migrants attempted to pass through a fence into the U.S., officials sprayed the crowd with tear gas, according to The Independent. Journalists reported that they witnessed children and families screaming and coughing in pain as the cloud of searing gas enveloped them, according to the Associated Press.
In response to this horrifying news, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement condemning the use of tear gas on children and their parents. "The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all immigrant children and families seeking safe haven are treated with dignity and respect to protect their health and well-being," the statement read. "Children who are displaced and fleeing violence should be given special protection and humanitarian assistance and allowed to petition for asylum."
As the AAP pointed out in its statement, "infants and toddlers in diapers" were among those being sprayed, and tear gas "threatens their short and long-term health."
The statement went on to explain that children "are uniquely vulnerable to physiological effects of chemical agents" due to their smaller size, rapid breathing rates, and cardiovascular stress response, as compared to an adult. The AAP called on the U.S. government in its statement to put children's well-being first:
Many of these children are fleeing conditions that threaten their health and safety; they have taken harrowing journeys to seek refuge in our country. Our government must take extra precautions when it comes to children. We must make every effort not to retraumatize them.
Unlike the AAP, Ron Colburn, a former Border Patrol deputy chief and president of the Border Patrol Foundation tried to assure the public that tear gas is perfectly safe and edible. While appearing on Fox & Friends, Colburn argued that the use of tear gas was "absolutely" warranted.
According to HuffPost he told the show's co-host Steve Doocy: "To clarify, the type of deterrent being used is OC pepper spray. It’s literally water, pepper with a small amount of alcohol for evaporation purposes. It’s natural. You could actually put it on your nachos and eat it. So it’s a good way of deterring people without long-term harm."
President Donald Trump is also firmly on the side of defending the use of tear gas on the families at the border. He referred to gas used as "very safe" adding that it was a "very minor form" of tear gas, according to the BBC.
Despite Colburn and the president's insistence that the gas was safe, doctors have spoken out about the potentially lasting effect that this chemical weapon can have on children. As they instinctively scream out for their parents rather than close their eyes and mouths, kids often take in more of the harmful substance than adults, according to HuffPost. Aside from the temporary effects of burning, watery eyes and shortness of breath, tear gas can also cause permanent damage like blindness, burns, and respiratory tract damage. Alan Shapiro, chief medical director at Terra Firma, even told the outlet that it could result in death for young children.
In stark contrast to Colburn and Trump, the AAP closed out its statement by urging the public and officials alike to have empathy when it comes to the children at the border:
Immigrant children are still children, and they deserve our compassion and assistance. We will continue to speak out against their inhumane treatment and advocate for their safety.
The fact that anyone needs reminding that "immigrant children are still children," is not only disheartening, but completely mind-boggling. There are people justifying the use of chemical weapons against children, and those at the AAP aren't the only ones who should be crying out in protest.