Fact Check: Did The Obama Administration Use More Tear Gas Than Trump?

Fact Check: Did The Obama Administration Use More Tear Gas Than Trump?
Fact Check: Did The Obama Administration Use More Tear Gas Than Trump?

There’s been a lot of talk in recent days over the use of tear gas against the incoming Migrant caravan in Mexico. While it’s true that Customs and Border Protection agents did fire tear gas canisters into a group of migrants recently, it wasn’t without reason.
A small splinter group of migrants attempted to “bum-rush” the border and force their way through the fence. Officials tried to hold them back with other methods, but when those methods failed, they were forced to turn to tear gas as a last resort.
The recent actions of our Border Protection agents aside, using tear gas at the border is neither new nor unusual. In fact, there’s a pervasive rumor going around right now that agents under the Obama administration actually utilized tear gas more often than Trump.
Is this true? We look into it and reveal why current trends don’t exactly show the whole picture.
• We investigated how often Barack Obama’s administration used tear gas during his time in office. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find numbers for the first three years, but we did locate information for the final five.
• Customs agents fired tear gas canisters a total of 1.3 times every 30 days during this five-year span (2012 to 2016). This comes to around 79 incidents before Trump took over as President.
• In contrast, the Trump administration has used tear gas just 47 times between 2017 and 2018. Homeland Security data confirms these figures here.
• Comparing just 47 incidents to 79 incidents certainly seems to be pretty cut and dried, but it’s a false equivalency. In fact, there are a few different issues with this kind of comparison.
• First, this assumption relies on data from nearly five years of time in office under Obama as compared to less than two years under President Trump. The numbers under the Obama administration may higher partially because more time passed.
• Additionally, Border Protection agents working under the Obama administration weren’t working against the same kind of threats. During Obama’s time, most of the incidents were comprised of just a couple of people. Trump’s Border Protection agents, however, are facing thousands of migrants, many of whom are committed to breaking through the fence by any means necessary.
• Because we lack data for incidents during the first three years of Obama’s tenure, it’s difficult to compare these situations at all. It’s also too early in Trump’s time in office to really compare the numbers anyway; numbers are naturally going to be skewed.
• Truthfully, Border Protection agents may have used tear gas less often under Obama, but they weren’t facing the onslaught of migrants we’re seeing right now. Nor did they have to hold back several hundred people trying to break through the border.
• Realistically, Obama’s use may not have been higher in number, but it may have been less appropriate because it was fired at individuals or very small groups instead of an entire caravan.
• The use of tear gas at the border right now makes sense. It’s a remarkably effective non-lethal agent that can successfully drive back crowds (including the migrant caravan). At the very least, it’s a kinder and more compassionate option than the alternative: live bullets and instant deaths.
• Without the data from Obama’s early tenure, and until Trump has an equivalent amount of time in office, it isn’t possible to factually compare these two situations. What we should focus on instead is whether or not the use of tear gas is appropriate and warranted – and right now, it certainly is.