US agents use tear gas on migrants at Mexico border as crossing closed
The United States closed its busiest border crossing with Mexico on Sunday after US agents repelled migrants with tear gas.
With tensions rising at the border amid heated rhetoric from President Donald Trump, some of the hundreds of migrants approaching the US border from Mexico tried to make it past the fencing.
US agents shot several rounds of gas, according to an Associated Press reporter on the scene, with children screaming and coughing in the mayhem.
Border officials in San Diego, California, said on Twitter that they had temporarily closed the San Ysidro crossing point – one of the busiest between the two countries – to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. It was reopened hours later.
The Mexican government said later on Sunday it had retaken control of the border crossing after nearly 500 migrants tried to cross the U.S. border "in a violent manner," and vowed to immediately deport Central Americans who attempt to enter the United States illegally.
Earlier in the morning, a group of Central Americans staged a peaceful march to appeal for the US to speed up the asylum claims process, but their demonstration devolved as they neared the crossing with US and some saw an opportunity to breach the border.
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 US agents fired tear gas at them.
"We ran, but when you run the gas asphyxiates you more," she told the AP while cradling her three-year-old daughter Valery in her arms.
US Customs and Border Protection helicopters flew overhead, while US agents held vigil on foot beyond the wire fence in California. The Border Patrol office in San Diego said via Twitter that pedestrian crossings have been suspended at the San Ysidro port of entry at both the East and West facilities. All northbound and southbound traffic was halted.
Earlier on Sunday, the group of several hundred 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 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 towards Mexico.
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 US, 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.
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.
US 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.
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.