“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

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

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.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend