Homeland Security shut down a key border crossing Sunday amid the first signs of violence from the migrant caravans camped out on the Mexican side of the border, as politicians in Washington sparred over whether they should be admitted.
A large number of the migrants attempted to push through the San Ysidro port of entry and others tried to breach the fences surrounding the port. They also threw projectiles at the border guards who responded, said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Authorities had to resort to tear gas to disrupt the unruly crowds.
“DHS will not tolerate this type of lawlessness and will not hesitate to shut down ports of entry for security and public safety reasons,” Ms. Nielsen said, vowing legal consequences against those who break the law. Her counterparts in Mexico vowed the same Sunday.
The port was shut down at 11:30 a.m. California time and was still closed hours later, as Customs and Border Protection Officers and Border Patrol agents responded to multiple breaches.
Mr. Trump over the weekend renewed his vow to keep the caravans out.
“Migrants at the southern border will not be allowed into the United States until their claims are individually approved in court,” tweeted Mr. Trump. “We only will allow those who come into our country legally.”
His administration has proposed allowing migrants who present themselves in an orderly fashion at the border to claim asylum — though only a set number are allowed to present their case each day.
A top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, characterized the migrants as asylum-seekers, and said they should be allowed to enter the country immediately.
“That’s not the law. They should be allowed to come in, seek asylum. That’s the law,” said Mr. Cummings, incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Asked whether he would support changing the law as the Trump administration has suggested, the Maryland Democrat said, “No.”
The debate in Washington seemed far removed from the realities on the ground at the border.
Several hundred migrants held a march Sunday chanting, “We are not criminals! We are international workers,” part of the estimated 10,500 people who have massed on the border after a weeks-long march from Central America.
U.S. agents fired off several rounds of tear gas Sunday after some marchers broke off and attempted to climb or squeeze through the wire fence. Earlier, several hundred tried to push past a blockade of Mexican police, passing easily through the officers guarding the international crossing.
The day before, a previously deported Honduran man threw rocks at authorities after sneaking into the U.S. then climbing a tree and setting it afire to avoid capture. He was ultimately arrested, and no officers were hit by the flying projectiles.
Also Friday, a migrant woman who climbed the border fence then fell off, impaling herself on pieces of rebar.
The 26-year-old woman had her two children with her — a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old. All three were treated for falling off the wall.
“Entering our country illegally, particularly over our walls is not only dangerous, but also very foolish. This woman placed her own life and her children’s lives in peril,” said San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Rodney Scott.
Immigrant-rights advocates complained that authorities were being too harsh on the crowds attempting to break through the border — and particularly over the use of tear gas.
“It is a despicable act on the part of the Trump Administration and CBP officials to attack defenseless women and children firing tear gas, a chemical agent, at them,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. “These are human beings who are reaching a point of desperation because their asylum claims are being processed at a snail’s pace or not at all.”
Mr. Trump called Sunday on Mexico and Central American governments to keep the migrants within their nations, accusing them of trying to “dump” their unwanted residents in the United States.
“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 their country and dump in U.S. No longer),” he tweeted.
The Mexican government described Sunday’s violence as “acts of provocation” that are “far from helpful” in getting the migrants what they want.
The Interior Ministry said it would immediately deport those Central American migrants who tried to “violently” enter California and that it would reinforce its side of the U.S.-Mexico border.
However, the incoming Mexican administration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also denied a Washington Post report Saturday that it had reached a deal with the White House requiring caravan migrants to remain south of the border while their cases are decided.
“There is no agreement of any sort between the incoming Mexican government and the U.S. government,” said Olga Sanchez Cordero, Mexico’s incoming interior minister.
Mexico has returned 11,000 Central American migrants to their home countries since Oct. 19, according to the interior ministry, including 1,906 members of the caravans.
Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum declared Friday a migrant humanitarian crisis, saying he would ask for help from the United Nations to grapple with the 5,000 migrants who have descended on the border city of 1.6 million.
Back in Washington, Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, said she wanted to see the U.S.-Mexico border remain open, but that the “safety of our nation comes first.”
“We would prefer that we keep it open, so let’s work really hard to make sure we’re addressing the asylum seekers before they actually come over the border,” said Ms. Ernst on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“I think that’s the intent of the president, is to divert any issues before they actually happen,” said Ms. Ernst. “Of course, we don’t want to see the border closed, but you know what? Safety of our nation comes first.”
Ms. Ernst, incoming vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference, added that Mr. Trump has produced results on the border issue with his tough stance.
• This article is based in part on wires reports.