U.S. authorities shut the country's busiest border crossing and fired tear gas into Mexico on Sunday to repel Central American migrants approaching the border after U.S. President Donald Trump vowed the asylum-seekers would not easily enter the country.
Traffic in both directions was suspended for several hours at the San Ysidro port of entry between San Diego and Tijuana, U.S. officials said, disrupting trade at the most heavily trafficked land border in the Western Hemisphere. Pedestrian crossings and vehicle traffic later resumed, officials said.
Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez immediately slammed the move on Twitter. Ocasio-Cortez wrote, "Asking to be considered a refugee & applying for status isn’t a crime. It wasn’t for Jewish families fleeing Germany. It wasn’t for targeted families fleeing Rwanda. It wasn’t for communities fleeing war-torn Syria. And it isn’t for those fleeing violence in Central America."
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Former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka slammed Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter, "Your comparison @Ocasio2018 is disgraceful. There is no genocide occurring South of our border targeting millions for death or shipping whole families to labor camps for extermination. You truly are an insult to intelligent and empathic humans everywhere."
To which she quickly replied, "You were forced out of the Trump Admin for saying white supremacists were “not the problem” days before Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville killed 3 people. Pretty sure we’re on the right side of history if you’re my opposition. This is not about atrocity. It’s about how we get there."
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also attacked Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter, "I recommend she take a tour of the Holocaust Museum in DC. Might help her better understand the differences between the Holocaust and the caravan in Tijuana."
On Sunday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., made a similar statement on “Meet the Press,” indicating that Congress will act if the president refuses aslyum seekers entry in the U.S. “They should be allowed to come in, seek asylum, that's the law," Cummings insisted.
Tensions on the border had been rising in recent days, with thousands of Central American migrants who arrived in a caravan camped out in a sports stadium in Tijuana. On Sunday, Mexican police broke up the latest in a series of daily protests, triggering a rush toward the U.S. border.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers stopped the migrants with a volley of canisters emitting large clouds of gas as U.S. and Mexican government helicopters clattered overhead.
The Mexican government said it had retaken control of the border crossing after nearly 500 migrants tried to cross the U.S. border "in a violent manner," and vowed to immediately deport Central Americans who attempt to enter the United States illegally.
Trump has raised alarm for weeks about the caravan of Central American migrants as it approached the United States, with its members planning to apply forasylum on reaching the country.
The mostly Honduran migrants are fleeing poverty and violence and have said they would wait in Tijuana until they could request asylum in the United States, despite growing U.S. measures to tighten the border.
Hundreds of caravan members including women and children protested peacefully on Sunday with chants of "We aren't criminals! We are hard workers." As they neared the U.S. border, they were stopped by Mexican authorities, who told them to wait for permission.