TIJUANA, Mexico — U.S. border agents fired tear gas on hundreds of migrants protesting near the border with Mexico on Sunday after some of them attempted to get through the fencing and wire separating the two countries, and American authorities temporarily shut down border crossings from the city where thousands are waiting to apply for asylum.
BBC News correspondent Will Grant reported on CBSN that some protesters crossed a footbridge over a canal in Tijuana and ran toward the border. More than 5,000 migrants have been camped in and around a sports complex in the city after making their way throughin recent weeks via caravan.
After a few migrants tried to breach the fence separating the two countries, they were enveloped with tear gas. U.S. agents shot the gas, according to an Associated Press reporter on the scene. Migrants sought to squeeze through gaps in the wire, climb over fences and peel back metal sheeting to enter.
The Mexican government described Sunday's events as "acts of provocation" that were "far from helpful" for the migrants' objectives.
Children screamed and coughed in the mayhem of the tear gas. Fumes were carried by the wind toward people who were hundreds of feet away, not attempting to enter the U.S. Yards away on the U.S. side, shoppers streamed in and out of an outlet mall, which eventually closed.
Honduran migrant Ana Zuniga, 23, said she saw migrants open a small hole in concertina wire at a gap on the Mexican side of a levee, at which point U.S. agents fired tear gas at them.
"We ran, but when you run the gas asphyxiates you more," she told the AP while cradling her 3-year-old daughter Valery in her arms. Mexico's Milenio TV also showed images of several migrants at the border trying to jump over the fence.
Sunday evening, the Mexican Interior Ministry has said it would immediately deport Central American migrants who tried to "violently" breach the border and it would reinforce the border.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said U.S. authorities will continue to have a "robust" presence along the Southwest border and they will prosecute anyone who damages federal property or violates U.S. sovereignty.
"DHS will not tolerate this type of lawlessness and will not hesitate to shut down ports of entry for security and public safety reasons," she said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopters flew overhead, while U.S. agents held vigil on foot beyond the wire fence in California. The Border Patrol office in San Diego said via Twitter that pedestrian crossings have been suspended at the San Ysidro port of entry at both the East and West facilities. All northbound and southbound traffic was halted.
Many migrants hope to apply for asylum in the U.S., but agents at the San Ysidro entry point are processing fewer than 100 asylum petitions a day. Some of the migrants who went forward Sunday called on each other to remain peaceful.
Earlier Sunday, they appeared to easily pass through the Mexican police blockade without using violence. A second line of Mexican police carrying plastic riot shields stood guard outside a Mexican customs and immigration plaza, where the migrants were headed.
That line of police installed tall steel panels behind them outside the Chaparral crossing on the Mexican side of the border, which completely blocked incoming traffic lanes to Mexico.
They carried hand-painted American and Honduran flags while chanting: "We are not criminals! We are international workers!"
Migrants were asked by police to turn back toward Mexico.
Irineo Mujica, who has accompanied the migrants for weeks as part of the aid group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, said the aim of Sunday's march toward the U.S. border was to make the migrants' plight more visible to the governments of Mexico and the U.S.
"We can't have all these people here," Mujica told The Associated Press. Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastlum on Friday declared ain his border city of 1.6 million, which he said is struggling to accommodate the crush of migrants.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday to express his displeasure with the caravans in Mexico.
Mexico's Interior Ministry said Sunday the country has sent 11,000 Central Americans back to their countries of origin since Oct. 19. It said that 1,906 of them were members of the recent caravans.
Mexico is on track to send a total of around 100,000 Central Americans back home by the end of this year.