A “violent mob” of illegal immigrants tried to ring in the new year by rushing the border in California, and Border Patrol agents fired tear gas at them to repel the incursion, Homeland Security officials said Tuesday.
About 150 people were involved in the attempt to climb over and burrow under a section of border fence in San Diego on New Year’s Eve night. After they were blocked, one group grew more combative, firing rocks over the border to try to hit agents.
The Border Patrol fired tear gas, smoke and pepper spray rounds at the group of rock-throwers, said Customs and Border Protection.
The migrants said they were part of the caravan of people from Central America who arrived at the border over the last couple of months, escalating what had already been a strained border security regime.
“Once again we have had a violent mob of migrants attempt to enter the United States illegally by attacking our agents with projectiles,” said Katie Waldman, a Homeland Security spokeswoman. “The agents involved should be applauded for handling the situation with no reported injuries to the attackers.”
In addition to rock-throwers, the migrants also began to try to push women and children from among their group forward onto the border boundary, U.S. officials said, forcing some juveniles to climb over razor wire that the American government has posted in recent weeks as a deterrent to unruly crowds itching to jump the border.
Ms. Waldman said the migrants appeared to be trying to stage a photo-op of their actions in front of “conveniently invited media.”
The incident marks the second time in recent weeks that border agents have had to use tear gas against a mass attempt to overwhelm the border.
A similar incursion in November, also caught on video, drew massive criticism from Democrats in Congress, who called the use of tear gas cruel.
Using tear gas and pepper spray has been standard border policy for this whole decade and was deployed dozens of times during the Obama administration in incidents similar to the recent incursions.
Still, the Border Patrol appears to have taken Democrats’ recent criticism to heart.
Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees, the Border Patrol, said the tear gas and pepper spray fired this week were aimed away from the women and children along the border line and directed specifically at the group of rock-throwers.
“No agents witnessed any of the migrants at the fence line, including children, experiencing effects of the chemical agents, which were targeted at the rock throwers further away,” CBP said in a statement detailing the action.
The agency said the tear gas dispersed the rock-throwers, while most of the people who tried to burrow into the U.S. squirreled through the hole back into Mexico.
Some 25 people were arrested, including two teenagers, CBP said.
News photographers captured images of migrants massed on the Mexican side of the border, lowering people down onto razor wire coiled along the ground at the bottom of the U.S. side of the fence.
The incursion took place at a spot where there is border fencing, but it’s a very old version that’s relatively easy to penetrate. That’s one reason U.S. officials have added the razor wire.
Ms. Waldman said President Trump’s proposed border wall could have helped in this case.
She also said Congress must change the laws to allow illegal immigrant families to be held longer than the few weeks currently dictated by a combination of court rulings and federal laws.
Those calls have been met with resistance on Capitol Hill, where Democrats say they won’t approve any increase in funding for the president’s border wall, and say the people attempting to force their way into the U.S. are refugees fleeing violence back home in Central America, and should be given a chance at asylum.
Amnesty International late Tuesday condemned the Border Patrol’s handling of this week’s incident and demanded an investigation.
“Using tear gas against men, women, and children seeking protection is cruel and inhumane,” said Justin Mazzola, deputy director of research for the group.