Jude Webber, Financial Times, November 25, 2018
US agents fired tear gas at Central American migrants on Sunday and temporarily closed a crossing into California as a group rushed the border fence, raising tensions over the fate of thousands of would-be asylum seekers that will test Mexico’s president-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Several hundred migrants, including children, marched from Tijuana’s town centre towards the border earlier in the day in an attempt to raise awareness of their plight. Mexican police tried to hold them back from reaching the border.
But a group broke away and surged towards the US side, where armed officers have been deployed.
Television images showed several migrants climbing atop the corrugated border fence. According to media reports, some protesters threw rocks at the US side of the border.
“Tear gas has now been used several times by US police shooting across fence,” tweeted James Fredrick, a freelance journalist on the scene. “It seems they’re trying to deter large groups gathering at fence.”
Milenio Televisión broadcast images of migrants retreating in chaos. One woman who was unable to walk was being carried. A small child was doused with water.
The scene recalled panic a month ago, when Mexican security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets against migrants who hurled rocks and tried to push through a gate on a border bridge between Guatemala and Mexico. One Honduran migrant was killed.
After hours stuck on the bridge, the migrant caravan ended up wading and rafting across the Suchiate River and entering Mexico illegally.
More than 5,000 migrants — mostly from Honduras but also from Guatemala and El Salvador, who are fleeing poverty, violence and extortion — have poured into Tijuana in recent days. That number is expected to double as other caravans of migrants making their way through Mexico arrive at the border in an attempt to cross to the US.
But President Donald Trump, who has authorised troops to use lethal force against migrants “if necessary”, has made clear they are not welcome.
“Would be very SMART if Mexico would stop the Caravans long before they get to our Southern Border, or if originating countries would not let them form (it is a way they get certain people out of the country and dump in the US. No longer,” Mr Trump tweeted earlier on Sunday. “No crossings!”
Reforma newspaper reported that some demonstrators carried signs saying “Mr Trump, help us please” and “My rights have no borders”.
Mr Trump, who calls the migrant tide an “unprecedented threat”, has attempted to end a practice of migrants crossing the border illegally, surrendering themselves to border agents and requesting asylum.
The policy was suspended by a federal judge, but Mr Trump has redoubled his rhetoric on Twitter.
Mexico’s incoming government denied reports on Saturday that it had reached a deal with the US to keep migrants in Mexico until they could cross legally to apply for asylum in the US — something that could take months or years at the current pace.
Mr López Obrador, who takes office next Saturday, will be under pressure not to bow to Mr Trump’s will, although the situation in Tijuana highlighted what many experts said was an unsustainable situation. An opinion poll published in newspaper El Universal found 49 per cent of respondents were opposed to Mexico giving migrants refuge.
Mexico’s new president is a leftist nationalist who wants the US to co-operate in development projects in Central America to stop people from having to migrate. The migration crisis is shaping up to be his first major policy headache.
He has stressed that he wants to maintain good relations with Mr Trump and has offered migrants work in Mexico.
But one migrant interviewed at the border fence by Milenio Televisión said: “They don’t want us here. We don’t have jobs.” Some residents in Tijuana have protested against the presence of the migrants, and conservative Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum said the city was overwhelmed.