By Wendy Fry and Sonali Kohli
Los Angeles Times
SAN YSIDRO, Calif. –– The Mexican border was closed Sunday at the San Ysidro Port of Entry after a group of migrants in Tijuana stormed the area, prompting the U.S. Border Patrol to fire what appeared to be tear gas at the group.
The incident was a serious escalation in the tensions in Tijuana as thousands of migrants from Central America amassed there with hopes for entering the United States. President Donald Trump has said he would seal off the Mexican border in recent days and pushed to keep any migrants in Mexico as they await the immigration process.
Hundreds of Central American migrants who gathered in Tijuana pushed past a blockade of Mexican police standing guard and rushed toward the border.
— emma murphy (@emmamurphyitv) November 25, 2018
The migrants carried hand-painted American and Honduran flags and chanted: “We are not criminals! We are international workers!”
Late in the morning, migrants tried to run around Mexican federal police, leaving one officer with a cut on his lip.
At one point before noon, Border Patrol authorities fired what appeared to be tear gas at a group of people trying to make their way through a fence. Some women ran under a train, clutching crying children. Photos from the scene showed children in the area where the tear gas landed.
Shortly after noon, the skirmishes appeared to be calming down. A woman used a bullhorn to spoke through the fence to U.S. Border Patrol agents, trying to persuade them to let in migrants.
“We don’t want war, we don’t want killing,” she said across the line. In response, Mexican federal police in riot gear pushed people away from the fence.
None of the migrants managed to cross the border into the U.S.
More than 4,700 Central Americans have been living crammed together in a Tijuana sports complex.
State authorities say by the time it is over, as many as 9,000 Central Americans will have arrived in Tijuana hoping to cross the border.
Many of them are from Honduras, a country beset by violence and poverty, and came with the intention of seeking asylum in the United States.
“It is a despicable act on the part of the Trump Administration and CBP officials to attack defenseless women and children firing tear gas, a chemical agent, at them,” Angelica Salas, executive director for the immigrant rights organization Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, said in a statement. “These are human beings who are reaching a point of desperation because their asylum claims are being processed at a snail’s pace or not at all.”
Sunday morning, before the border closed, Trump used his Twitter account to blame Democrats for allowing border crossings, and suggested that Mexico and “originating countries” should prevent caravans from reaching the border, or forming at all. Such caravans, he wrote, are “a way they get certain people out of their country and dump in U.S. No longer.”
Less than 24 hours earlier, Trump had reiterated threats to close the southern border — threats that have alarmed many in Mexico, since cross-border trade is a mainstay of the Mexican economy.
In his Twitter post, Trump also said migrants would not be allowed into the United States “until their claims are individually approved in court.”
Others, he said, would “stay in Mexico,” he wrote without elaboration.
Mexico’s incoming leadership denied a report that it had agreed to a Trump administration proposal that would require asylum-seekers arriving at the southwest border to wait in Mexico as U.S. authorities consider their claims for safe haven.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that Trump had the support of the government-in-waiting of Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador — who takes office Dec. 1 — for a plan mandating that asylum seekers at the border remain in Mexico as their claims move through the U.S. immigration system.
Later Saturday, however, Olga Sanchez Cordero, Mexico’s interior minister-designate, denied that Mexico had agreed to host people seeking U.S. asylum as their cases awaited judgment.
“There is no agreement of any sort between the future Mexican federal government and the U.S.,” the incoming interior minister said in a statement.
(Patrick McDonnell and Ruben Vives and correspondent Cecilia Sanchez contributed to this report.)
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