Border agents routinely used tear gas during Obama administration, DHS data shows

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Federal agents used tear gas on the U.S.-Mexico border dozens of times during the Obama administration, data from the Department of Homeland Security shows, despite growing outrage at the Trump administration from Democrats for using the substance against migrant caravan members over the weekend.

According to DHS data obtained by Fox News, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has used 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, commonly known as tear gas, 126 times since 2010.

During the Obama administration, tear gas was used on the border 26 times in 2012, 27 times in 2013, 15 times in 2014, eight times in 2015, and three times in 2016. That compares to 18 times in 2017 and 29 times in 2018 during the Trump administration.

The circumstances of each incident -- including the size and makeup of groups hit with tear gas, and the locations -- are unclear from the data provided. Much of the outrage directed at the Trump administration stems from a photo appearing to show a mother and two children fleeing tear gas canisters on Sunday.

Little photographic evidence exists from the encounters during the Obama administration.

Border agents, the DHS data shows, also regularly used Pava Capsaicin, commonly known as pepper spray, 540 times between 2012 to 2018.

During the Obama administration, pepper spray was used 95 times in 2012, 151 times in 2013, 109 times in 2014, 30 times in 2015 and 56 times in 2016, the data shows. Pepper spray was used 56 times in 2017 and 43 times in 2018 during the Trump administration.

The Washington Times first reported the figures.


Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, highlighted the past use of tear gas during the Obama administration during Tuesday’s press briefing.

“Lets also not forget that this isn’t the first time non-lethal force like this has been used," Sanders said. "In fact, tear gas was used on average once a month during the Obama administration for very similar situations.”

The focus on tear gas being used on the border comes after a clash between border agents and caravan migrants on Sunday, as hundreds of migrants from a caravan that originated in Central American pushed past Mexican riot police and rushed the border at the port of entry in San Ysidro.

Tear gas use, 2012-2018

    2012                     26

    2013                     27

    2014                     15

    2015                     8

    2016                     3

    2017                     18

    2018                     29

    Source: DHS figures

U.S. agents on Sunday shot rounds of tear gas at caravan migrants who threw rocks at law enforcement while trying to breach the border. The Trump administration has defended its the response, with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen saying in a statement some migrants "attempted to breach legacy fence infrastructure along the border and sought to harm [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] personnel by throwing projectiles at them.”

But Democrats lashed out at the Trump administration.

Ben Rhodes, the former Obama administration adviser, tweeted: “It’s wrong to gas women and children and the elderly. That shouldn’t be a partisan view nor should that be uncomfortable to ‘the men and women in duty.’”

Rhodes faced online pushback over his comments from conservatives, who referenced a 2013 episode where pepper spray was used at the border during the Obama years.

“Ben Rhodes was part of an administration that did the very same exact thing,” conservative commentator Stephen Miller shot back.