U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reopened the San Ysidro border crossing after an hours-long shutdown that began Sunday morning when members of the migrant caravan in Tijuana marched toward the border, and some tried to illegally enter the U.S.
A CBP spokesperson said after the crossing was re-opened that there were “multiple apprehensions by U.S. Border Patrol agents of persons who attempted to enter the U.S. illegally.”
Multiple agents were also hit with rocks, the spokesperson said.
The CBP confirmed that agents used pepper ball guns and tear gas canisters to disperse crowds at the border fence.
All told, the San Ysidro Port of Entry — the busiest land border crossing in the western hemisphere — was shut for more than five hours at the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend amid the clashes.
The pedestrian crossing and both the northbound and southbound vehicle crossings were initially shut about 11:30 a.m. after some members of the caravan tried to enter the U.S. through the San Ysidro Port of Entry’s vehicle lanes, CBP officials said.
Officials re-opened the pedestrian border crossing around 3:45 p.m., then reopened vehicle lanes around 5 p.m.
Additional personnel were already deployed to the border Sunday morning in preparation for multiple planned demonstrations on both sides when the decision was made to shut down the crossing.
“As the demonstrations on the Mexican side reached the border area, some members of the demonstration split off to head towards multiple locations along the border,” an earlier statement from CBP said. “Some attempted to enter the U.S. both directly east and west of the border crossing. These (are) attempts to illegally enter the U.S., and the response to them continue. Some attempted to illegally enter the U.S. through both the northbound and southbound vehicles lanes at the port of entry itself. Those persons were stopped and turned back to Mexico.”
Caravan members began marching from their shelter at the Benito Juarez sports complex to Mexico’s El Chaparral border crossing, Mexican news site Frontera reported around 11:30 a.m. Videos posted to Twitter showed caravan members rushing past Mexican federal police who had been blocking them from getting too close to the border.
Brendan Cassidy, an organizer with the San Diego Migrant and Refugee Coalition who was near the scene, said he witnessed U.S. authorities using tear gas.
Cassidy’s group planned to march to the border in San Ysidro Sunday to support the migrants, and he said members of the caravan were trying to meet up with demonstrators on the U.S. side when they were stopped.
“From folks on the other side, it appears like they were trying to march to El Chaparral and they got blocked by police,” Cassidy told City News Service. “They were able to call the San Diego side and tell us what was going on.”
Later videos posted to social media showed some of the migrants throwing rocks across the border fence, as well as aftermath of the Border Patrol’s tear gas response.
In a tweet posted Sunday afternoon, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said her department “will not tolerate this type of lawlessness & will not hesitate to shut down (ports of entry) for security reasons.
“We’ll seek to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who destroys federal property, endangers our frontline operators, or violates our sovereignty,” she said.
President Donald Trump posted a tweet criticizing Mexico’s handling of the caravan earlier Sunday morning, before the border closures happened.
“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 the U.S. No longer),” the president’s tweet said. “Dems created this problem. No crossings!”
But U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, pointed the finger at Trump.
“Today’s unprecedented demonstration at the San Ysidro Port of Entry is a direct result of President Trump’s failed leadership,” Vargas said in a statement. “His complete disregard for human rights, international law, and immigration law threatens the safety of federal officers and the millions of people that pass through the border region.”
Updated 11/25/18 at 6:54 p.m.
–City News Service