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U.S. Closes Major San Diego Port Of Entry As Migrants Converge At Border

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program with a surprise action from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection this afternoon. They closed the San Ysidro port of entry, the border crossing between the U.S. and Mexico. It is the busiest land border crossing in the Western Hemisphere, where tens of thousands of people and vehicles typically cross every day. Reporter James Fredrick is in Tijuana on the Mexican side of that port of entry, and he's with us now.

James, thanks so much for talking with us.

JAMES FREDRICK: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: First of all, why today? What happened to cause this closing?

FREDRICK: Well, this morning, main members of the Central American migrant caravan marched from the shelter that's been set up for them here by the Tijuana government and marched towards the U.S.-Mexico border. So there was lots of Mexican police already waiting for them here. It took them a little while.

Eventually, a group of hundreds got towards the U.S.-Mexico border. They were stopped by Mexican police here. Then they took another way, and they ended up in the drainage canal that goes from Mexico into the U.S. And it looked like people were going to try to get across the border. But a lot of people began gathering right there about the border fence, and then that is when U.S. forces, U.S. police used tear gas to disperse the people who were on the Mexican side of the border.

And since then - that first happened a couple of hours ago, and since then, it's been chaos. Every once in a while, a new group gathered there at the U.S.-Mexico border fence, and then, pretty quickly after that, they are dispersed using tear gas. And it's really windy here today, and so, you know, there were people - I was probably half a mile away from where the tear gas was shot, and I could feel it. So, I mean, you saw lots of, you know, families, lots of kids who, you know, although they weren't close there had been feeling the effects of tear gas. And so that led to both Mexican and U.S. authorities closing all of the gates here at San Ysidro.

MARTIN: And I understand that it's a chaotic scene, but did you have any opportunity to understand from the marchers what the objective was to begin with?

FREDRICK: Well, the situation for the marchers, most of whom come from the migrant caravan, is that they are just desperate, and they don't know what's going to happen next. So one part of it is that a lot of people in the caravan want to request asylum in the United States. But that is a really long process. U.S. authorities here at San Ysidro are only letting between 40 and 100 asylum seekers in each day. And so people who are passing right now have already been waiting a month.

It's going to be months before anyone from the migrant caravan can request asylum here. And so people feel desperate. The resources in the shelter are running scarce. They don't know what's going to end up happening with them, and so they said, we came out. We want people to see us. We want them to know we're desperate, and we don't have anywhere to go or any resources here in Tijuana.

MARTIN: And, as I think Americans know, President Trump has been tweeting about this. Yesterday, he said, if for any reason it becomes necessary, we will close our southern border. Today, before the port closed, he tweeted, no crossings - exclamation mark. And we are hearing political figures in the U.S. say that this is going to be used - or what happened today is going to be used as justification for his efforts to change asylum policy. I was wondering if you're hearing anything from the Mexican side. Is the Mexican government talking about this - as briefly as you can?

FREDRICK: Well, Mexican authorities are guarding the border also here, so they're trying to keep things under control. But, exactly as you've said, President Trump said if things look like they're out of control in Mexico, they're going to shut the borders, so Mexican forces are trying to keep things under control here. They - you know, they have not been able to keep people from marching towards the border, so it looks like a situation that is only getting more tense from today's events.

MARTIN: That's reporter James Fredrick in Tijuana.

James, thanks so much for talking with us.

FREDRICK: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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