More than 20 people, mostly faith leaders, were arrested Monday as part of a peaceful demonstration in which some participants purposefully resisted officials' orders to move away from the U.S.-Mexico border barrier near Tijuana.
Between 300 and 400 people, many faith and community leaders from across the country, marched down the beach to the southwest corner of the U.S. in Border Field State Park to call for protection for migrants and the right to seek asylum.
The event, held on International Human Rights Day, kicked off a week of nationwide demonstrations with the message “Love knows no borders” that will go through International Migrants Day on Dec. 18.
“In the face of the Trump administration’s violent rhetoric and policies, we are here to stand with border residents against militarization and for absolute protection for migrants seeking refuge and asylum,” said Joyce Ajlouny, general secretary for the American Friends Service Committee. “I’m here to declare that every person has inherent worth and dignity.”
On the way to the border barrier, the marchers walked in organized rows along a muddy trail with pools of water remaining from last week’s flood. They paused when they reached the beach to read out names of those who died on their migrant journeys, and two faith leaders anointed with oil those participating in the civil disobedience as a blessing.
Once they reached the end of the U.S., organizers held the main group back from the concertina wire and Border Patrol agents who waited close by the fence that stretches into the ocean. A smaller group of about 50 advanced slowly in rows past the coils of wire toward the agents.
An agent with a megaphone warned them to stay behind the caution tape that delineated agents’ enforcement zone by the fence. Slowly, they inched forward into the restricted area.
“We refuse to accept that this is normal,” said Imam Omar Suleiman from Dallas, as several in the front rows took turns speaking. “You have a right to seek peace. You have a right to seek asylum.”
Border Patrol agents continued to ask the group to step back.
“We call on you to accomplish your task without violence,” one told the demonstrators. “We’re all Americans. We support your right to demonstrate.”
Shortly after, the agents formed a human wall and began walking forward, forcing the demonstrators back. After the agents backed up into the restricted zone, about 30 in the group of demonstrators got on their knees.
They sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” as they inched forward, either stepping and kneeling again or in some cases walking on their knees in the sand. Some locked arms or held hands. One woman in the middle of the group pressed her hands together in prayer.
A little while later, they all stood up again.
After Department of Homeland Security officers arrived, the agent with the megaphone issued another warning.
“You are being lawfully ordered to step behind the caution tape,” he said. “You are in direct violation of federal regulations.”
The agents again pressed forward as a line, chanting, “Move back!”
This time, about 17 people were pulled from the group as they refused to go backward. Some were pushed face down in the sand while officers tied their hands with zip ties.
The maneuvering between agents and demonstrators began again. The agents moved back once the demonstrators were out of the restricted zone, and after the agents moved, the front line again stepped forward, leading to another half a dozen arrests.
Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.