The enormous bangs and sparks flying through the air in Tijuana, Mexico, in the early morning of New Year's Day might have been mistaken for fireworks—at least until the tear gas canisters, fired by United States Customs and Border Patrol agents, struck the ground in Mexico, releasing their noxious white fumes. A group of 150 migrants had approached the border barrier in an attempt to cross, and, after the tear gas was fired, the clash escalated. One migrant was hit by a canister, and some migrants threw rocks at the Border Patrol agents in retaliation.
The clash mirrored the violence that occurred on the border in November of 2018, during the week that the bulk of migrants arrived from two Central American caravans. On November 28th, agents fired tear gas into a group of migrants that included mothers and children. An already-iconic photo from the day showed children in diapers fleeing the white smoke.
Over 5,000 migrants have arrived in Tijuana from Central America (largely from Honduras) since November. Many of them are asylum-seekers fleeing violence and repression in their home countries. The wait time to ask for asylum at the official port of entry in Tijuana has become a months-long slog, however, as Border Patrol agents enact a controversial "metering" process that limits the number of asylum-seekers accepted per day (the recent daily average floats around 40 people). Facing poor conditions in makeshift shanty towns and a government-run shelter, many migrants have opted to attempt an illegal crossing, with the intention of surrendering themselves to Border Patrol and requesting asylum once in detention.
In mid-December, a migrant from Honduras living in the government-run shelter in Tijuana told Pacific Standard that a large group of migrants was planning on rushing the border in an attempt to cross. "We ask that Border Patrol does not use violence," the 24-year-old, named Oscar, said. "But if they are violent to us, we will respond with violence. We are not criminals, we are workers and good people. But they want to make us into criminals."
Conflicting accounts of the January 1st clash emerged after Border Patrol press releases claimed that the gas was fired in response to rocks being thrown. The Associated Press reported that migrants threw rocks after the gas was fired.
On Thursday, Mexico's foreign minister sent a formal letter to the United States Embassy requesting that the government investigate Border Patrol's use of tear gas and pepper spray on New Year's.
Below, photos of the incident.
More on Tijuana From Pacific Standard
- A Look Inside a Migrant Shelter in Tijuana
- What Life Is Like for Haitian Refugees in Tijuana
- Why Some Migrants in Tijuana Refuse to Use the New Shelter
- How Trump's Immigration Policies Are Provoking Insecurity at the U.S.–Mexico Border
- In Tijuana, Some Migrant Families Choose Detention Over a Tent City