“You Could Actually Put It on Your Nachos”: Former Top Border Patrol Official Defends Tear Gas

“It’s natural.”

Migrant caravan from camp Centro Deportivo Benito Juarez marches to the Tijuana-San Diego border on November 25, 2018. They were met by a line of Mexican police in riot gear at the bridge but managed to run past them, climbing up steep walls, crossing the Rio Tijuana and difficult terrain, reaching the border but were met at times by tear gas from U.S. agents when they tried to climb over fence and were pleading to be let in. Carol Guzy/ZUMA

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

On Sunday, US authorities fired tear gas onto hundreds of migrants attempting to enter the United States, a chaotic scene that left scores of mothers and small children choking as they were violently pushed back from the US-Mexico border. 

“I felt that my face was burning, and my baby fainted,” Cindy Milla, one of the migrants whom agents shot at on Sunday, told the Wall Street Journal. “I ran for my life and that of my children.”  

But Milla’s account, one of the many harrowing stories that emerged as lawmakers and human rights advocates condemned the use of tear gas by Border Patrol agents, would apparently be news to Ron Colburn, the former deputy chief of US Border Patrol. Colburn, now the president of the Border Patrol Foundation, a group that honors the memory of fallen agents, appeared on Fox News Monday morning to defend the agents’ actions. He also claimed that the contents of tear gas were “natural” and safe for consumption.

“Absolutely,” Colburn responded when asked if the use of tear gas was warranted. “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.”

He continued, “It’s natural. You can actually put it on your nachos and eat it. So, it’s a good way of deterring people without long-term harm.”

Colburn’s appearance came hours after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appeared to blame the “lawlessness” of migrants for forcing agents to use tear gas on them.

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate