On November 26, U.S. border agents fired tear gas on a group of Central American asylum-seekers, including women and children, less than a week after President Trump had authorized the use of “lethal force” against them if necessary. American Oversight is investigating the violence at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the Trump administration’s politicization of the so-called migrant caravan, which the president termed “an invasion,” in the run-up to the midterm elections.
The migrants’ nearly 3,000-mile journey from Central America to the U.S. border dominated much of the news in the weeks leading up to the November 6 elections, with Trump frequently bringing up the caravan at political rallies and tweeting that it included violent gang members and “unknown Middle Easterners.” A week before Election Day, the president deployed an additional 5,000 troops to the border, even though at the time the migrants were weeks away from arriving.
This week, American Oversight and National Security Action filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests with the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, State and Defense, seeking agency officials’ communications about the migrant caravan and the midterm elections, as well as records relating to DHS’s “Myth vs. Fact” press release on the caravan, the conspiracy theory that billionaire George Soros was funding the journey, and communications with Mexico or Sinclair Broadcast Group. The FOIAs also request information about the formulation of talking points for DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, HHS Secretary Alex Azar (whose department includes the Administration for Children and Families), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Acting Director David Harlow of the U.S. Marshals Service.
On November 20, Trump authorized the use of lethal force against migrants despite the lack of a clear threat. American Oversight and National Security Action are seeking communications between the White House and departments about that authorization memo and any meetings that were held on the subject. The subsequent use of tear gas on the migrants gathered at the San Ysidro port of entry in southern California drew vocal criticism, as has the decision to extend troop deployment at the border until the end of January 2019 (it was originally set to end on December 15).
American Oversight is investigating the prolonged deployment and is seeking information about what kind of guidance was given to troops about using tear gas for immigration control and about whether Immigrations and Customs Enforcement used facial-recognition technology on migrants. Given the president’s use of the caravan to alarm and rally his political base, it is unclear how the administration intends to de-escalate the situation at the border.