TIJUANA, MEXICO — US authorities on Sunday temporarily shut the San Ysidro border crossing, one of the world’s busiest, after a group of hundreds of migrants from Central America evaded a phalanx of Mexican police, crossed a small river, and marched down a side street in front of a pedestrian crossing.
With helicopters circling overhead, US border authorities fired tear gas and rubber bullets as some of the marchers approached the United States at a metal fence where train tracks run through. At least one person crossed through the barrier and was detained by a US border agent, according to an eyewitness.
The marchers were close to the Chaparral pedestrian border crossing shortly after going across a river that runs next to it. The group continued marching away from the border crossing. They then pushed in the direction of the vehicle border crossing and another pedestrian crossing in Tijuana a few minutes away. Mexican federal police had blocked the road where cars usually enter Mexico from the US with a large metal gate, and it seemed unlikely the migrants could have passed through it. Mexican federal police quickly cordoned off the area, making access impossible.
But it was the first confrontation between the caravan and US authorities and came just one day after US troops had conducted a training exercise at the San Ysidro crossing, according to photos posted on a US military Facebook page shortly after Sunday’s confrontation took place.
It was not immediately known whether any of the US troops that have been sent to California to support US Customs and Border Protection were nearby during the confrontation, however. US military spokespersons did not respond to requests for comment.
The marchers left Estadio Caliente, the Tijuana stadium where many have been living for days, and walked toward the border, carrying signs that said “Donald Trump, Christ loves you” while others held US, Mexican, and Honduran flags painted onto pieces of cloth.
At one point, Mexican police urged the marchers to turn back, saying they were risking their opportunity to ever enter the United States.
The caravan in Tijuana has grown to 5,157, according to local government officials. That number is expected to grow as other groups of migrants arrive.
Julio Ulloa, 29, helped paint some of the posters and signs for the march. He said the members of the caravan marched to the border walkway in the hopes of asking President Trump for some type of permission to enter the United States.
“Trump says he won’t open the door but God has the last word,” Ulloa told BuzzFeed News.
Many people inside the sports complex have grown frustrated with the long delay to apply for asylum, Ulloa said. Some have slept within view of the border wall and the United States. They were cold and there wasn’t enough food and water for everybody, he said.
The Honduran native said the caravan had been well received through its entire trip up Mexico, but they felt unwelcome in Tijuana, pointing to an anti-immigrant march that took place recently and statements from the local government about limited resources.
“People are frustrated,” Ulloa said. “We barely fit and there are more people coming.”
Vera Bergengruen contributed reporting from Miami.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.