US authorities shut the country’s busiest border crossing and fired tear gas into Mexico to repel Central American migrants approaching the border after US President Donald Trump vowed the asylum-seekers would not easily enter the country, Reuters reports.
Traffic in both directions was suspended at the San Ysidro port of entry between San Diego and Tijuana, US officials said, disrupting trade at the most heavily trafficked land border in the Western Hemisphere. Pedestrian crossings and Mexico-bound vehicle traffic later resumed after being halted for several hours, officials said.
Tensions on the border had been rising in recent days, with thousands of Central American migrants who arrived in a caravan camped out in a sports stadium in Tijuana. On Sunday, Mexican police broke up the latest in a series of daily protests, triggering a rush toward the US border.
US Customs and Border Protection officers stopped the migrants with a volley of canisters emitting large clouds of gas as US and Mexican government helicopters clattered overhead.
The Mexican government said it had retaken control of the border crossing after nearly 500 migrants tried to cross the US border “in a violent manner”, and vowed to immediately deport Central Americans who attempt to enter the United States illegally.
Trump has raised alarm for weeks about the caravan of Central American migrants as it approached the US, with its members planning to apply for asylum on reaching the country.
The mostly Honduran migrants are fleeing poverty and violence and have said they would wait in Tijuana until they could request asylum in the US, despite growing US measures to tighten the border.
Hundreds of caravan members including women and children protested peacefully on Sunday with chants of “We aren’t criminals! We are hard workers.” As they neared the US border, they were stopped by Mexican authorities, who told them to wait for permission.
As the morning wore on, and it became clear they would not get permission, people started to express frustration.
Groups of migrants, some of them bearing the Honduran flag, broke off and headed toward the border fence, where US Customs and Border Protection officers gathered on the other side, backed by US military police, San Diego police and the California Highway Patrol.
The Americans responded with tear gas after the migrants hit them with projectiles, US Customs and Border Protection said on Twitter.
“Border Patrol agents deployed tear gas to dispel the group because of the risk to agents’ safety,” the statement said.
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