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Migrant caravan: Amid tear gas backlash, how does Trump compare to Obama?

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mexico migrants tear gas
A
migrant, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central
America en route to the United States, covers his face with his
T-shirt after U.S. border patrols fired tear gas in front of the
border fence between Mexico and the United States in Tijuana,
Mexico, November 25, 2018.


Kim
Kyung-Hoon/Reuters



  • Some supporters of President Donald Trump are defending the
    use of tear gas at the border by pointing to immigration policies
    and practices under former President Barack Obama. 

  • Several conservative-leaning outlets
    and media figures have
    zoomed in on
    an incident in 2013
     — when Obama was in office — in
    which US Border Patrol agents used pepper spray against
    migrants who threw rocks at them. 
  • Immigration lawyers and experts said such arguments are just
    a “tactic for distraction,” even if there are sound reasons to
    criticize Obama’s immigration policies.

Amid backlash over the use of tear gas against
migrants
at the US-Mexico border, some
supporters of President Donald Trump and other conservatives on
Monday defended the current administration by pointing to
immigration policies and practices under former President Barack
Obama. 

Tear gas — also known as CS gas — is considered a chemical
weapon and is
banned in warfare
by the vast majority of the world’s
countries, including the US. But its use as a “riot-control
agent” by law enforcement in a domestic capacity is still legal
in the US and a number of other countries. 

Trump on Monday said border authorities “had to use” tear
gas against migrants the day before because “they were being
rushed by some very tough people.” Images from Sunday’s incident
showed women and children fleeing the gas in apparent
terror. 

Meanwhile, several
conservative-leaning outlets
and media figures have zoomed in
on
an incident in 2013
 — when Obama was in office — in
which US Border Patrol agents used pepper spray against migrants
who threw rocks at them. 

Some of the conservative critics pointed to an alleged double
standard in terms of the mainstream response to the 2013 pepper
spray incident compared with this past weekend’s clash at the
border. Both incidents occurred at San Ysidro, the busiest port
of entry along the US-Mexico border. 


mexico migrants tear gas
A
migrant family, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from
Central America en route to the United States, run away from tear
gas in front of the border wall between the U.S and Mexico in
Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018.


Kim
Kyung-Hoon/Reuters



Piers Morgan, a friend and supporter of Trump, tweeted
that “Obama pepper-sprayed them, Trump tear-gassed them. Why has
there only been outrage over what Trump did?”

Trump has followed a similar line of defense, particularly
in terms of his administration’s controversial family separation
policy. Trump has repeatedly and falsely
suggested this policy began under Obama

Immigration lawyers and experts said such arguments are just a
“tactic for distraction,” even if there are sound reasons to
criticize Obama’s immigration policies beyond Trump’s inaccurate
assertions. 

‘This is not how adults should solve the country’s
immigration problem’

“The Obama administration didn’t separate children from
their mothers,” Mana Yegan, an immigration lawyer based in
Houston, Texas, told INSIDER. “They did, however, have family
detention centers where the mothers and children were kept and
then released after some vetting.” 

The detention centers under Obama did not have the “best
conditions,” which led to lawsuits, Yegani said.

“But for the Trump administration to constantly use the
previous administration’s policies as justification for what they
are currently doing is just a tactic for distraction,” Yegani
added. 


Read more:
Backlash erupts after the Trump administration fires tear gas at
migrants in clash at the US-Mexico border

Yegani said the US immigration system is “broken” and needs
and “new rules and regulations that meet the standards of our
times.”

“It doesn’t matter whose administration is in charge. This
is not how adults should solve the country’s immigration
problem,” Yegani said.

Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer based in
Memphis, Tennessee, echoed these sentiments. 

“It has been a problem for decades that border and
immigration enforcement has sometimes been a force unto
themselves,” Siskind told INSIDER, including under
Obama. 

But he added that immigration authorities have “definitely
been emboldened” under Trump. 

‘Trump is bad on immigration and Obama was bad’

Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney based in Buffalo,
New York, said the “biggest shift” between Obama and Trump on
immigration is in their rhetoric. 

“The Trump administration wants everyone to know that he’s harsh
on immigrants,” Kolken told INSIDER. “Obama was the exact
opposite. His rhetoric was very lofty, and favorable to
immigration reform.” 

But children still ended up in detention centers under
Obama, Kolken said, and “harsh measures” were used at the
Southern border.

“Is the Trump administration in practice worse than Obama?
Yes, but we’re not talking about night and day, it’s shades of
grey,” Kolken said. “The bottom line is that Trump is bad on
immigration and Obama was bad. Neither one of them have done any
favors to immigrant communities.”

Kolken said Obama’s dubious immigration practices were more
under the radar because he wasn’t using the same “racist and
xenophobic rhetoric” as Trump. 

Obama “always said the right thing and Trump can’t ever say
the right thing,” Kolken added.

Human rights experts seem to largely agree. 

‘You have a chief executive that is explicitly condoning
the abuse of migrants and asylum seekers’

Clara Long, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch
specializing in immigration, said it’s important that the history
of abuses in the immigration space perpetrated by the Obama
administration are not forgotten. 

Long said part of the problem under Obama was he “never got
total control over Customs and Border Protection,” allowing for
dubious practices at the border. There were also issues in terms
of how immigration authorities treated families they
detained. 

“Yes, families were separated under Obama and their
separations didn’t take into account the right to family unity,”
Long said. 

Long said there were far fewer separations under Obama than
Trump and the policy was much different overall, but
said

 “they did occur and we shouldn’t erase
that history.”

Human rights abuses under Obama also don’t “excuse the
damaging rhetoric from the top” on immigration in the present
day, Long added. 

“You have a chief executive that is explicitly condoning
the abuse of migrants and asylum seekers,” Long said. “What’s
happening now is haphazard, scattered-shot enforcement in terms
of arresting whoever you can.”

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