U.S. Border Patrol agents fired tear gas across the Mexican border early Tuesday, responding to what they claim was rock-throwing by a group of 150 migrants.
The incident occurred after some migrants tried to breach a border fence near Tijuana, a statement from the Customs and Border Protection agency said.
“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,” the statement said.
However, at least one eyewitness disputes the U.S. timeline.
Rocks were thrown only after U.S. agents fired the tear gas, an Associated Press photographer said, adding that at least three volleys of tear gas were fired.
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security blamed the migrants for endangering women and children by encouraging the “conveniently invited media to begin filming their illegal acts.”
While most of the group fled, 25 migrants including two teenagers were apprehended.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Roberto Velasco said his government “regrets the events,” adding that Mexico “advocates respect for migrants’ human rights, security, and integrity, while calling for respect for laws on both sides of the border.”
The incident took place at the same location where U.S. officers fired tear gas at migrants in November and where Mexico is struggling to handle thousands of people who fled Central America as part of a caravan.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who last week visited multiple U.S. Customs and Border Protection stations in El Paso, called Tuesday for the end of the Flores agreement, which limits the time and conditions under which the U.S. can detain immigrant children, to tackle the "root causes" of the crisis.
That suggestion was strongly criticized on social media, with users noting that at least two immigrant children had died in U.S. custody last year.
The gassing occurred on the 11th day of a partial government shutdown, which is centered on a dispute over border security.
President Donald Trump wants $5 billion to build a border wall, while Democrats, now in control of the House, refuse to increase funding for fencing.
Democrats are expected Thursday to pass a clean funding bill to reopen the government without wall funding, daring Trump not to sign it.
Cover image: A group of Central American migrants flee the tear gas that the border police threw into Mexican territory to prevent them from entering illegally on January 1, 2019 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Cristopher Rogel Blanquet/Getty Images)