Editorial | Legal doesn’t equal moral

Illustrated by Gaby Fantone

Just over a hundred miles from Chapman lies the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego, California. It’s one of the busiest border crossings the country, processing around 70,000 northbound vehicle passengers each day. On Nov. 25, it became a scene of violence and chaos as American border agents tossed tear gas into a crowd of migrants that included children.

While the gas used at the border Nov. 25 was not lethal, it was immoral. The U.S. has been swift to punish other countries that use chemical weapons – in April, we launched airstrikes against Syria for its leaders’ role in the death of 34 people, including children, by chemical attack near Damascus.

What does our willingness to attack a country for using chemical weapons while we downplay what is happening at our own borders say about us?

Tear gas has been outlawed for use in warfare by almost every country in the world. Under the Geneva Convention, a multicountry agreement about behavior in times of war, it’s considered a chemical weapon and its use is prohibited, although it’s allowed in riot control situations.

But despite its legality, tear-gassing innocent bystanders is morally wrong. It is a cruel and uncalled for action taken by a government with a deeply flawed immigration system.

These thousands of migrants, the majority of whom are escaping violence and poverty in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have spent months walking at least 2,500 miles traveling to the U.S. border in search of better lives for their families. They have a right to do so under U.S. and international law.

Meeting their search for safety with an outlawed chemical weapon attack further shows how many people have become collateral damage in an increasingly volatile war on immigration.

The current administration is reluctant to funnel funding toward fixing the system. The U.S. spends around $13 billion each year on border security, but just a fraction of that on reviewing claims from asylum seekers.

It is our responsibility to protect the legal right of migrants, especially those as vulnerable as children, to seek asylum and refuge when there is no appropriate system in place for those seeking emergency protection. In the words of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children do not immigrate, they flee.”

“I felt that my face was burning, and my baby fainted. I ran for my life and that of my children,” Cindy Milla, a Honduran migrant with two children, told the Wall Street Journal.

Several newly elected politicians have voiced opposition to the use of tear gas on Twitter, like Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Democratic senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who condemned the border control agents’ treatment of the migrants.

These politicians exemplify why it’s important to get angry about injustices, even when the leaders of the country defend them. History has demonstrated loud and clear that when we don’t speak up and defend the defenseless, we become no better than the people who instigate violence.