U.S. fires tear gas at migrants, closes border at Tijuana for several hours
Hundreds of migrants approaching the U.S. border from Mexico were enveloped with tear gas Sunday after several tried to make it past fencing and wire separating the two countries, while the U.S. and Mexico both halted all border traffic on Sunday between Tijuana and San Diego.
Earlier in the morning, a group of Central Americans staged a peaceful march to appeal for the U.S. to speed up the asylum claims process, but their demonstration devolved as they neared the crossing with the U.S. and some saw an opportunity to breach the border.
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U.S. agents shot several rounds of gas, according to an Associated Press reporter on the scene, after migrants attempted to penetrate several points along the border. Migrants sought to squeeze through gaps in wire, climb over fences and peel back metal sheeting to enter.
Children screamed and coughed in the mayhem of the tear gas. Fumes were carried by the wind toward people who were hundreds of feet away, not attempting to enter the U.S.
Yards away on the U.S. side, shoppers streamed in and out of an outlet mall.
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Honduran Ana Zuniga, 23, said she saw other migrants open a small hole in concertina wire at a gap on the Mexican side of a levee, at which point U.S. agents fired tear gas at them.
“We ran, but when you run the gas asphyxiates you more,” she told the AP while cradling her 3-year-old daughter Valery in her arms.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said on Twitter that tear gas was deployed on migrants in self-defence.
“Today, several migrants threw projectiles at the agents in San Diego,” the statement said. “Border Patrol agents deployed tear gas to dispel the group because of the risk to agents’ safety. Several agents were hit by projectiles.”
Traffic in both directions was suspended at the San Ysidro port of entry, CBP said on Twitter. Mexican federal police have also shut down the border from their side, and no cars are being allowed entry. The port is the most heavily traficked land border in the Western Hemisphere.
The border has since been reopened to both pedestrians and vehicles, CBP announced on Twitter Sunday evening.
WATCH: Central American migrants face border security, military at U.S. border crossing
Mexico has announced it will deport migrants from a group of 500 who on Sunday tried to “violently” and “illegally” cross the U.S. border, Mexico’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The statement added that Mexican authorities had contained the protest at the crossing between Tijuana and San Diego and that, despite heightened tensions there, Mexico would not send military forces to control 7,417 migrants from a caravan currently amassed at the U.S.-Mexico border.
WATCH: Migrants approach U.S. border from Mexico
Before the confrontation, several hundred Central American migrants pushed past a blockade of Mexican police who were standing guard near the international border crossing. They appeared to easily pass through without using violence, and some of the migrants called on each other to remain peaceful.
They convened the demonstration to try to pressure the U.S to hear their asylum claims and carried hand-painted American and Honduran flags while chanting: “We are not criminals! We are international workers!”
Migrants were asked by police to turn back to Mexico.
WATCH: Tension and frustration at the U.S.-Mexico border
Around 5,000 migrants have been camped in and around a sports complex in Tijuana after making their way through Mexico in recent weeks via caravan. Many hope to apply for asylum in the U.S., but agents at the San Ysidro entry point are processing fewer than 100 asylum petitions a day.
Irineo Mujica, who has accompanied the migrants for weeks as part of the aid group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, said the aim of Sunday’s march toward the U.S. border was to make the migrants’ plight more visible to the governments of Mexico and the U.S.
“We can’t have all these people here,” Mujica told The Associated Press.
WATCH: Migrants run past cars at U.S. border entry in Tijuana after pushing past police blockade
Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum on Friday declared a humanitarian crisis in his border city of 1.6 million, which he says is struggling to accommodate the crush of migrants.
U.S. and Mexican negotiators met on Sunday to discuss a plan to keep the Central Americans in Mexico while their asylum claims are heard. Normally, asylum-seekers announce their intention on arriving at U.S. ports of entry or after crossing the border illegally.
U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter Sunday to express his displeasure with the caravans in Mexico.
“Would be very SMART if Mexico would stop the Caravans long before they get to our Southern Border, or if originating countries would not let them form (it is a way they get certain people out of their country and dump in U.S. No longer),” he wrote.
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Mexico’s Interior Ministry said Sunday the country has sent 11,000 Central Americans back to their countries of origin since Oct. 19. It said that 1,906 of them were members of the recent caravans.
Mexico is on track to send a total of around 100,000 Central Americans back home by the end of this year.
-With files from Reuters
© 2018 The Canadian Press