By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Screenshot off CBS 8 live feed
Update November 26, 2018 with comments from Congresswoman Susan Davis.
Update 5:30 p.m.: Border Patrol has reopened northbound and southbound lanes.
November 25, 2018 (San Diego)—U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has shut down the international border at San Ysidro in both directions today, also closing major highways and roads nearby including portions of I-5, I-805, and state route 905. A trolley line and pedestrian crossing that closed temporarily have since reopened.
When some members of a migrant caravan from Central America attempted to cross into the U.S., agents repelled them with tear gas. Reuters reports children and babies were screaming after the attack. There are also eyewitness reports that a loud sound device was deployed, possibly a flash-bang device or a sonic weapon.
The border shutdown on a busy holiday weekend inconvenienced vacationers on both sides of the border seeking to return home. Border crossers were forced to detour and endure hours-long waits to crossings at Otay or Tecate.
The Twitter hashtag #migrantcaravan includes many updates, photos and videos of the confrontation on the border and shutdown of the busiest border crossing in America.
The migrants have said they are fleeing violence and death threats in nations where drug cartels have taken many lives. Most of the migrants have indicated they plan to ask for asylum at the border, a right protected by international law for anyone fleeing persecution, though countries can vet those seeking asylum and deny sanctuary to any whose claims prove unfounded.
A federal judge earlier this month ruled that President Trump acted illegally when he indicated asylum claims by caravan participants would not be processed. The judge held that this violates international law protecting those who ask asylum, whether at a border checkpoint or anyplace in between. Yet the President has thus far defied the court and still refuses to allow the caravan migrants to submit their claims lawfully at border crossings, ordering U.S. forces to respond with force to prevent the migrants from crossing illegally after being denied their legal rights to request asylum.
Homeland Security has contended that some 500 of the 7,000 migrant caravan members have criminal records. The agency has not disclosed the nature of the supposed crimes, which potentially could be only misdemeanors or a history of being previously deported for crossing the border as an undocumented immigrant.
Homeland Security contends that some migrants turned violent, hurling rocks at agents and in one case, lighting a tree on fire in a failed attempt to escape capture after trying to cross the border illegally. Mexico has said that it will deport about 500 migrants who tried to cross illegally and acted violently.
Trump has asked Mexico to allow migrants to stay there but thus far, the Mexican government has not agreed. Many of the migrants say they fled their homelands in Central America due to gang violence and death threats against themselves or their children.
Meanwhile the plight of some has become equally desperate in Mexico. Joseph Garcia told Reuters, “They want us to wait in Mexico but I for one am desperate. My little girl is sick and I don’t even have money for milk. I want to work but they haven’t given me papers.”
One desperate woman who attempted to climb the fence on Saturday with her two small children fell and was impaled on rebar, but is expected to survive. Military troops sent to the border by President Trump have spent the past few days reinforcing the border fence with razor wire similar to that atop the Berlin Wall, which formerly separated East and West Berlin in Germany.
The migrants here have been met with mixed reactions in Mexico, welcomed by some who have offered help, but also sparking protests from others. Similarly on the U.S. side of the border, protesters on both sides of the issue have been vocal.
Some have pointed up the tragic irony of the U.S. government using force against would-be immigrants on Thanksgiving weekend, a holiday that celebrates Native Americans welcoming and sharing a feast with European immigrants.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, met today with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to discuss the crisis. His Twitter post reads, "For several weeks my office has been in close communication with
@CBP officials in preparation of the arrival of the migrant caravan. Today @SecNielsen provided me an update on the situation. My focus remains on the safety of our communities and maintaining cross-border commerce."
Congressman Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) has issued a statement criticizing Trump. “Today’s unprecedented demonstration at the San Ysidro Port of Entry is a direct result of President Trump’s failed leadership. His complete disregard for human rights, international law, and immigration law threatens the safety of federal officers and the millions of people that pass through the border region," Vargas says. "The President continues to address a complex global issue with an offensive simplicity that makes the United States appear callous and xenophobic to our neighbors and allies."
Vargas adds, "The President and the Republican controlled House and Senate have had two years to pass immigration reform and improve our asylum process. Sadly, they have failed to take any productive action. Now more than ever, our country needs bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform. Comprehensive immigration reform will improve border security while treating immigrants with human decency.”
Congresswoman Susan Davis issued this statement: “The closure of the San Ysidro Point of Entry and the clashes at the border stem from the refusal of the Trump Administration to follow the law. Trump continues to be rebuked by federal judges for violating our nation’s laws. First, it was separating families and now it’s the failure to allow migrants to legally apply for asylum in a timely fashion. By ignoring the law and long-standing policies for processing asylum claims, this president is putting not only migrant families at risk but border patrol and servicemembers, as well. The vast majority of migrants are seeking a better life – not confrontations with law enforcement. It’s time for this president to start following the law and abandon attempts to militarize a response to immigration. Congress also needs to address long-neglected comprehensive immigration.”