United States border agents fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Central American migrants yesterday to thwart an attempt to illegally cross the Mexico-U.S. border.
The United States Customs and Border Protection agency also closed the border between Tijuana and San Diego in both directions for several hours following the attempted breach, and U.S. President Trump warned today that it could be shut permanently.
The Mexican government said in a statement issued by the Interior Secretariat (Segob) that it will “immediately deport” those who “in a violent manner tried to cross Mexico’s border with the United States.”
At 10:00am Sunday, a group of about 500 migrants gathered outside the Benito Juárez Sports Complex, where they and thousands more Central Americans have been staying since arriving in Tijuana over the past two weeks.
From there, they began a peaceful march towards the El Chapparal border crossing bridge, where they planned to stage a protest to appeal to United States authorities to speed up the processing of asylum requests from thousands of Central Americans currently stranded in the northern border city.
Some held signs with messages such as “not having papers is not a crime and doesn’t take away our human rights” and “Trump, we hate you,” the newspaper Milenio reported.
Waving flags of their countries of origin – Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala – the group chanted: “we’re not criminals, we’re international workers!”
At the entrance to the El Chapparal bridge, the migrants were halted by a contingent of Federal Police in riot gear.
After a standoff during which the Central Americans sang their respective national anthems, members of the group realized that the route towards the border at the side of the bridge was unguarded.
Many then ran across the dried-up Tijuana River, evading attempts by the police to stop them.
The group splintered off in different directions, with some of them breaking down or scaling metal barriers and crossing railroad tracks as they moved closer to the physical border separating Mexico from the United States.
As U.S. Border Patrol helicopters hovered overhead, agents on the ground fired tear gas and later rubber bullets at the migrants, forcing them to retreat.
Women and children were among those affected by the gas.
“. . . There were many children who fainted . . . my daughter also got gassed and there were pregnant women and many men who also fainted . . .” one female migrant said.
Another, 23-year-old Honduran Ana Zuñiga who was accompanied by her three-year-old daughter, told the Associated Press “we ran, but when you run the gas asphyxiates you more.”
According to Rodney Scott, chief patrol agent of the San Diego Sector Border Patrol, around 42 migrants managed to cross the border but were arrested.
“Only eight of those were females, and there were only a few children involved,” he said. “The vast majority of the people we’re dealing with are adult males.”
Scott said that agents only deployed tear gas after they were attacked by the migrants and claimed that the group pushed women and children to the front.
“The group immediately started throwing rocks and debris at our agents, taunting our agents,” he said.
“Once our agents were assaulted, the numbers started growing. We had two or three agents at a time initially facing hundreds of people at a time. They deployed tear gas to protect themselves and to protect the border . . . We try to target specifically the instigators . . . but . . . once that chemical is released it does go through the air.”
In response to yesterday’s events, Trump took to Twitter today to urge Mexican authorities to deport the migrants, while renewing his claim that some of them are criminals.
“Mexico should move the flag-waving migrants, many of whom are stone-cold criminals, back to their countries. Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it anyway you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!” he wrote.
National Immigration Institute (INM) commissioner Gerardo García Benavente said this morning that 98 migrants who tried to illegally cross the border yesterday have already been deported.
Those sent home, he said, were identified as having flagrantly violated the law.
Last week, media reports said the Trump administration was preparing sweeping new measures that would force Central Americans who arrive at the border to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that the incoming federal government had agreed to the United States plan known as “Remain in Mexico” but president-elect López Obrador’s future interior secretary denied the claim.
“No agreement of any kind exists between Mexico’s future federal government and the United States of America,” the office of Olga Sánchez Cordero said in a statement.
“The future government is not considering in its plans that Mexico assumes the role of ‘safe third country’ for Central American migrants or [migrants] from other countries, who find themselves in Mexican territory.”
More than 7,000 migrants are already in Tijuana or other parts of Baja California, according to Mexican authorities, and thousands more are farther south in the country.
With a large backlog of migrants already waiting for an opportunity to request asylum in the United States, recent arrivals could face waits of several months to plead their case.
The mayor of Tijuana last week declared a humanitarian crisis due to the massive number of migrants who have swamped the city and called on the federal government and international organizations to intervene.
Source: Milenio (sp)