Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

US Fired Tear Gas Into Mexico Early On New Year's Day

Migrants run as tear gas is thrown by U.S. Border Protection officers to the Mexican side of the border fence after they climbed the fence to get to San Diego, Calif., from Tijuana, Mexico, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019.
Associated Press
Migrants run as tear gas is thrown by U.S. Border Protection officers to the Mexican side of the border fence after they climbed the fence to get to San Diego, Calif., from Tijuana, Mexico, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019.
US Fired Tear Gas Into Mexico Early On New Year's Day
GUEST: Wendy Fry, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

The year began with another violent confrontation at the border. Early on Tuesday morning an estimated 150 migrants rushed the border fence and made an attempt to cross at around 2 o'clock in the morning. They were met with tear gas and according to some reports rubber bullets. Reporter Wendy Frye is a member of the watchdog and accountability team at the San Diego Union Tribune and she was in Tijuana yesterday talking to the migrants who are involved in this incident. Thanks for joining us Wendy. Thanks for having me. So what was Customs and Border Protection account of what happened at the border that night. Right. So they said about 150 migrants were attempting to breach the border fence there at last place. They responded came to the line to stop them from coming over into the United States and that's when a small group of that larger group started throwing rocks at Border Agents. And that's when they responded with the force that they described the use of the tear gas and smoke. So I understand that you spoke to some of the migrants who disputed the fact that there were rocks being thrown. What did they tell you. All of the migrants that we spoke to yesterday said that they did not see anybody throwing rocks the way the CBP described it in their news release. They said that this group was kind of off to the side from the other group. So it's possible maybe that they didn't see the small handful that was throwing rocks. I know from the incident in November that it's very chaotic and very hard to understand in fact when I was there I was kind of recording everything with my camera phone and I didn't even realize everything that had happened until I went back and looked at the camera and the you know video and then I was Oh I understood kind of the sequence of events so it's kind of hard to understand everything that's going on in the moment. So the Border Patrol account suggests that they did not target the migrants but just what they were claiming were rock throwers. The migrants that you spoke to did they experience being tear gassed. Yes. They see this gas. It spreads very large clouds it's very very strong. And so everybody described not being able to breathe a very strong you know feeling from that from that SEUS gas. So since then the Department of Homeland Security has put out a statement describing it in more dramatic terms as quote a violent mob. And they said that agents responded with pepper spray and tear gas because the migrants were throwing rocks. And that's the the Border Patrol really responded with a minimum amount of force necessary for their own protection. Do you does this how does jibe with the accounts that you were getting from the migrants really strong statement. I mean that the wording of the Department of Homeland Security just comes off very very strongly worded statement. Obviously the statement from the migrants you know everyone that we spoke to there they are describing approaching the line very peacefully and the way they describe it is that they're trying to throw themselves on the line or they're going to give it a shot. They're trying to get across. They're not saying that they went there with any mal intention or any intention of harming anybody or with violence in mind at all. So very different accounts obviously of what happened and some of the migrants did actually succeed in getting. We're talking women and children. In many cases here it was a mixture of people that were trying to get across. Describe the scene they told you about. So I spoke with one man and he was describing one mother with two children and he he believes that he got farther than everybody else got. He has a very dramatic account of how this all went down almost like he was going through an obstacle course. You know he he he dove through three layers of the wire of the concertina wire and then he saw the mother with the children and he said the agents were helping her and he was kind of hiding through the brush and trying to trying to escape. But he said it was very chaotic dark people couldn't breathe they were trying to cover their faces. And just hard to understand kind of everything that was going on going on right. What happened to the people who did make it through. I believe the CBP statement says that they turned 45 back. So they said 45 sort of random you know turned themselves back and returned to Mexico voluntarily sort of just ducked back across the fence on their own. They apprehended twenty five including two minors and then we are heard from accounts from the migrants that they insisted on walking. Some that they apprehended just back across and just put them right back across the line in Mexico. So we're still trying to do some reporting today. To figure out it sounds kind of like a legal gray zone. We're trying to figure out how how that happened so they put foreign nationals back in Mexico. And why did the migrants tell you that they undertook what must have been a fairly scary attempt in the middle of the night. Right. They said they're going to know they're willing to try it 10 more times even though at risk they risked so much but they're they're tired they're hungry they're frustrated. They have taken numbers and line their number one thousand 162 and they've been that number for quite some time. They've tried they try to do what the Trump administration is telling them to do which is approach the ports and ask for asylum and when they do that they are told you've come to the wrong place go to the other port. They do that. They here were at capacity so they're just confused and they don't understand what the system is really it's very hard to decipher right now. Wendy thanks for bringing us their perspective. Thanks for having me. That's reporter Wendy Frye who's a member of the watchdog and accountability team at the San Diego Union Tribune.

U.S. authorities fired tear gas into Mexico during the early hours of the new year to repel about 150 migrants who tried to breach the border fence in Tijuana.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that about 45 migrants got through the first layer of fencing but turned back when they saw the border patrol's presence early Tuesday. CBP said migrants began to throw rocks at agents from the Mexican side while others tried to cross the concertina wire, including passing "toddler-sized children" over the wire.

Border patrol officers responded by firing smoke, pepper spray and tear gas at the rock throwers in Mexico, distinguishing them from those who were trying to cross the fence line, CBP said.

"No agents witnessed any of the migrants at the fence line, including children, experiencing effects of the chemical agents, which were targeted at the rock throwers further away," the statement said.

However, an Associated Press photographer saw at least three volleys of gas launched onto the Mexican side near Tijuana's beach that affected the migrants, including women and children, as well as journalists. The AP saw rocks thrown only after U.S. agents fired the tear gas.

The AP photographer was on the Mexican side of the border, while border patrol agents who provided the information for the CBP statement were on the U.S. side.

The incident took place between a highway and the border fence. The area is flat near the highway, then slopes sharply downward closer to the fence, where most of the migrants were clustered.

U.S. authorities also had a helicopter flying over the scene during the incident so presumably the government has video that could show what was happening on both sides.

The agency said 25 migrants were detained, while others crawled back into Mexico through a hole under the fence.

CBP said that under its use of force policy, the incident would be reviewed by its Office of Professional Responsibility.

Migrants who spoke with AP said they arrived in Tijuana last month with the caravan from Honduras.

The caravan left Honduras in mid-October and grew to more than 6,000 members during its month-and-a-half trek north. It has been a constant target of President Donald Trump, who referred to it frequently before U.S. midterm elections in November.

Many of the migrants are waiting in Tijuana for a chance to apply for asylum in the U.S., but there was a backlog before the caravan's arrival and the wait is expected to be many months. Others have found jobs in Mexico and tried to settle there.

In a previous incident, U.S. agents launched tear gas across the border after some migrants tried to breach the border following a peaceful march in Tijuana on Nov. 26. Hundreds of migrants who were downwind of the gas were affected.

Trump has been locked in a fight with Congress over funding for the border wall that he wants to build. The stalemate has led to a partial government shutdown.