Central American migrants who traveled to far northern Mexico hoping to seek asylum in the United States returned disheartened to a nearby camp Monday after US border police drove them off with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Migrants who were driven back when they tried to rush the border flocked back to the camp where some 5,000, mostly from Honduras, were staying in hope of eventually becoming US residents.
Some 500 migrants stumbled back into camp, dirty, scared and with ripped clothes.
They had scrambled over a rusted metal fence and raced into a concrete border riverbed towards the United States — only to be stopped by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire and tear gas hurled by US Border Patrol agents.
“We’re here with broken hearts and hopes,” said Andy Colon, a 20-year-old woman who traveled from Honduras with her sister and two children.
“We were deluded into believing that we had already reached the United States, and that they would grant us asylum,” Colon told AFP.
The San Ysidro border post — the busiest crossing on the US-Mexico border — across from Tijuana was closed to north and south traffic and pedestrians for several hours following the incident.
President Donald Trump, who for weeks has been condemning the caravan of migrants, took to Twitter to vent his anger on Monday.
“Mexico should move the flag waving migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries,” he wrote.
“Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it anyway you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!”
Mexico threatens deportations
Mexican Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete accused some of the migrants of attempting to cross from Tijuana in a “violent way,” and said they would be deported.
“Far from helping the caravan, they are hurting it,” he told the Milenio television network.
Video clips posted on Twitter showed crowds of migrants dashing across a shallow concrete riverbed toward the United States.
The sudden rush overwhelmed the outnumbered Mexican police, who were deployed with full riot gear.
US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen accused the migrants of seeking to harm US border patrol personnel “by throwing projectiles at them,” and said that US officials would “seek to prosecute” offenders.
‘Are we in the US yet?’
Around 1,000 migrants, including women and young children, were holding a peaceful midday demonstration in Tijuana on Sunday when half of the group bolted toward the border.
Several hundred made it over the first barrier and cascaded into the concrete riverbed.
AFP / Guillermo Arias The thousands of migrants included women and young children
“Are we in the United States yet?” some asked in desperate tones.
But when they neared the second fence US border agents fired tear gas and rubber bullets at them as US helicopters buzzed overhead, an AFP journalist at the scene saw.
The migrants covered their faces to protect themselves from the acrid gas. Mothers clutched their young children as they fled back to Mexico for safety.
“They told us that if we crossed (the first barrier) they would give us asylum, because we were already in the United States,” said Flor Jimenez, a 32-year-old Honduran woman.
“But now it seems that they want to kill us, and we got very scared,” said Jimenez.
She managed to reach the second border fence with her husband, her sister and her young daughter.
But amid the clouds of gas, the crowd of migrants, including Jimenez and her relatives, turned back to Tijuana.
In a statement, the Honduran government “condemned” the use of rubber bullets and reiterated a request for United Nations assistance for migrants stranded on Mexico’s northern border.
Trump has deployed some 9,000 troops and guards along the border to support Customs and Border Protection agents.
Approximately 5,000 migrants have reached Tijuana over the past week, after a trip of up to 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) covered in just over a month.
Many said they were fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras and hoped to find asylum in the US.
To enter the US legally, migrants must apply for asylum, but the wait for those requests to be processed can last up to a year.