150 migrants rush U.S. border, are met with tear gas from agents who say they were throwing rocks
A group of about 150 migrants attempted to breach a San Diego border fence on New Year’s, and some began throwing rocks at responding U.S. border agents who deployed pepper spray and tear gas on the crowd, authorities said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the group was attempting to climb over and under the San Diego border fence. When agents and officers responded, about 45 migrants turned back to Mexico, according to the agency.
Some migrants began throwing rocks over the fence at agents and officers, according to the agency.
“Several teenagers, wrapped in heavy jackets, blankets and rubber mats were put over the concertina wire. Border Patrol agents witnessed members of the group attempting to lift toddler-sized children up and over the concertina wire and (have) difficulty accomplishing the task in a safe manner,” a news release from U.S. authorities states.
The news release does not say what time the incident occurred, and a follow-up question was not immediately answered. Migrants interviewed in Tijuana said the incident occurred around 2 a.m. on Tuesday.
The Customs and Border Protection release said agents and officers deployed smoke, pepper spray and CS gas to address the rock throwers, who they said were assaulting border agents and also risking the safety of migrants who had already made it onto the U.S. side.
The gases caused people to stop throwing rocks and flee, CBP said.
The agency apprehended 25 people, including two minors, the release said.
“I don’t like that type of violence of people throwing rocks,” said Silvio Sierra of Honduras, one of the migrants who approached the border and turned back amid the gas. “We don’t like that type of violence of throwing rocks. The majority of people came in peace. Our intent was to walk up peacefully.”
Regarding the tear gas, he said, “It was very strong. It was everywhere. People were crying. Women and children too. The gas was everywhere.”
Several migrants from the group that rushed the border said they have been growing frustrated in recent weeks waiting in El Barretal shelter with conflicting and shifting information about how the U.S. immigration process is supposed to work. They said the majority in the group planned to peacefully approach U.S. immigration authorities at the border and “throw themselves at their mercy.”
Such a rush of the border has been discussed for several days. Plans to make the effort on Christmas Eve did not materialize.
“The thing about it is, you don’t want to be illegal but you are already illegal,” Sierra said. “So they tell you to take a number. You ask for a number and wait in line for an opportunity. But there’s so many people in line, you aren’t getting through. If you walk up and ask for asylum, they say you are in the wrong place. You tell me what are we supposed to do?”
Jose Alexander of El Salvador said he headed to the border with his four-year-old son and witnessed the tear gas fired across the border. He said he didn’t see anyone throwing rocks, a sentiment echoed by many migrants interviewed on Tuesday.
“My son is still scared today,” Alexander said. “We were a little farther back in the group. As soon as I heard the first shot, I scooped him up and ran back. He was really scared.”
The migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have come to seek asylum from violence and other unrest in their native countries. They set out on foot in October, and eventually used buses and other means to arrive in Tijuana, awaiting U.S. processing. Their presence has been portrayed as an invasion by Trump and and a human rights crisis by others. They have been routed from one shelter to another, and many have decided to return to their homelands or stay in Mexico, where new President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is more welcoming than Trump.
U.S. authorities are not the only ones who have used tear gas on the Central America migrants. Two suspects tossed tear gas canisters into the El Barretal shelter as migrants were settling into bed on Dec. 18.
Late Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman issued a statement on the incident.
“Once again we have had a violent mob of migrants attempt to enter the United States illegally by attacking our agents with projectiles,” the statement said. “As has happened before - in this and previous administrations - our personnel used the minimum force necessary to defend themselves, defend our border, and restore order. The agents involved should be applauded for handling the situation with no reported injuries to the attackers.”
Enrique Morones, founder of the immigrant aid group Border Angels, released a statement as well.
“Last night Border Patrol again tear gassed and shot (rubber bullets) at migrants including women and children,” the statement said. “After women and children were shot at, some migrants threw rocks to protect women and children. We ask for an independent investigation of these hostile acts by Border Patrol towards migrant children and adults. Border Patrol leadership needs to be changed. Misrepresentation of the facts, violence and death at the border is unacceptable and criminal.”
Juan Carlos Caballero Jones said he participated in Tuesday’s rush on the border. He said he made it past the border fence and hid in the brush as agents searched nearby.
“When they passed me, I moved another inch or so, and then I stayed still,” he said. “They walked right past me but didn’t find me.”
He said he hid in silence holding his breath for 5 minutes.
Eventually, Caballero was discovered by the lights from an overhead helicopter, he said.
“I was just starting to think I was free.”
He said he was the only one caught in the spotlight of the helicopter and unsure if the agents were going to use some type of force to stop him.
“I was so nervous my whole body was shaking,” he said.
He said agents from the ground returned, and took him into custody and walked him back into the Mexico side.
“I was so close,” he sighed. “But I am going to try again on another day.”
5 p.m. This story was updated with interviews from migrants involved in the rush on the border.
7:30 p.m. This story was updated with a statement from Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman.
8 p.m. This story was updated with a statement from Enrique Morones, founder of the immigrant aid group Border Angels.
Get breaking news, investigations, analysis and more signature journalism from the Los Angeles Times in your inbox.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.