“Make no mistake,” said the Homeland Security secretary. “We are very serious. You will not get into our country illegally.”
Ninety minutes earlier Tuesday, a man who identified himself as Nicaraguan waded around the U.S. border barrier, emerged from the surf and was arrested — for entering the United States illegally.
Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen didn’t see the soaking-wet man with long-sleeved shirt and torn jeans at Border Field State Park. Nor did she see him wipe tears from his face as he spoke to Supervising Border Patrol Agent William “Billy” Rogers.
Rogers waved the man over and identified himself. The agent asked the man his country of citizenship.
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“He told me, and that was actually it,” Rogers said, picking up “every fifth or sixth word” of the intruder’s Spanish. “We actually didn’t have very much exchange.”
Soon the man was loaded into a Border Patrol vehicle, which took him to the agency’s nearest station.
“He was brought back to Imperial Beach station, where he will be processed,” Rogers said. “But beyond that … I’m not allowed to give out any further information about him.”
It wasn’t disclosed whether the man was seeking asylum.
But the status of other immigrants heading north drew sympathy from several beach-goers.
Sporting a backpack with an Ammar Campa-Najjar campaign button was Kim Knowles-Yanez, 54. She said she “100 percent knew” that a press conference was set for the DHS chief.
But she didn’t make a point of it when she took her 18-year-old daughter Penelope to the beach Tuesday. With some other friends, they had a picnic within sight of the media scrum.
“I’m not surprised she’s coming here because Trump has been getting on her about her lack of strong approach to this,” Knowles-Yanez said of Nielsen. “She’s probably just coming down here to make an impression that she’s been here.”
Knowles-Yanez called President Trump’s statements about a feared migrant invasion — echoed Tuesday by Nielsen — “an example of fear tactics.”
“The caravan was used to stir up people’s feelings about immigration before the midterm election,” she said. “The past week, it’s dropped off the radar. But now [Nielsen is] coming back and maybe it will ignite again.”
Knowles-Yanez said the reason she came to Border Field State Park was to see “the observers” — people on both sides of the border who “take their time to … to protect the disempowered people in the caravan.”
The Escondido resident said members of the caravan are people fighting for their lives.
“For them to make this tortuous journey up here is a testament to their resilience,” she said. “You know, we’re the wealthiest country in the world, and if you want to know about our times, just look at this.”
Also looking on were dozens of people on the Mexican side of the border, peering between the heavy bars sunk into the sand or from a Playas de Tijuana bluff above the beach.
Food carts were arrayed on the sand. Little girls gawked at camera crews. One videographer on the Mexican side, wearing only Calvin Klein underwear briefs, was handed pants. He put them on.
Penelope Knowles-Yanez, who turned 18 just before the midterm election, marveled at the artificial nature of the border — saying it could just as well be five miles away.
“It’s just land,” she said. “I think it’s crazy.”
She, too, said she voted for Democrat Campa-Najjar in the race against Rep. Duncan Hunter.
“I just don’t believe in separating families and that type of stuff,” Penelope said. “My mom is a really big influence on me, too. She’s always talking: Don’t discriminate.”
Part of their picnic group was Forest DePhelps, 18, of Idaho — in town to see his grandmother who lives near Mission Bay.
DePhelps, finishing up an advanced training program in carpentry, didn’t vote in the latest election, he said. He hadn’t yet turned 18.
He said he had no idea what was going on with the commotion around a lectern in the sand.
“I’ve never seen this many police or media — like the total number of police in the town I come from,” he said.
Updated at 7:50 p.m. Nov. 22, 2018