U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers used tear gas to deter migrants attempting to reach the U.S. on Sunday before President Donald Trump threatened to close the border altogether.
A group of migrants first faced Mexican police near the San Ysidro border crossing, The New York Times reported. Some migrants who evaded Mexican police were met by U.S. officials who used tear gas.
U.S. officials also closed a border crossing near San Diego for a few hours on Sunday.
Children were among the migrants who faced tear gas, CNN reported.
“We ran, but when you run the gas asphyxiates you more,” 23-year-old Honduran Ana Zuniga, who had her 3-year-old daughter Valery in her arms, said to the Associated Press.
On Monday morning, Trump tweeted that some of the migrants are “stone cold criminals” and that he would not be opposed to closing the border altogether.
“Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries,” Trump wrote. “Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it anyway you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!”
“Today, several migrants threw projectiles at the agents in San Diego,” the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency asserted on Twitter on Sunday. “Border Patrol agents deployed tear gas to dispel the group because of the risk to agents’ safety. Several agents were hit by the projectiles. The situation is evolving and a statement is forthcoming.”
“@DHSgov will not tolerate this type of lawlessness & will not hesitate to shut down POEs for security reasons,” Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted on Sunday. “We’ll seek to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who destroys federal property, endangers our frontline operators, or violates our sovereignty.”
Critics responded by calling the use of tear gas inhumane.
“Anyone uncomfortable with spraying tear gas on children is welcome to join the coalition of the moral and the sane,” Sen. Brian Schatz tweeted. “We can argue about other stuff when we’ve got our country back.”
“These children are barefoot. In diapers. Choking on tear gas,” California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom tweeted.
“Women and children who left their lives behind — seeking peace and asylum — were met with violence and fear. That’s not my America,” he continued. “We’re a land of refuge. Of hope. Of freedom. And we will not stand for this.”
Trump has criticized the migrant caravan — which started as thousands of Honduran migrants headed to the U.S. — since before the midterm elections. His call for a border wall revives a central issue from his 2016 presidential campaign.