Mystery surrounds Tijuana border rush


November 26, 2013

— Video footage, anonymous leaflets, and eyewitness accounts on Tuesday offered some insights into last weekend’s incident that saw more than 100 people rush a heavily patrolled stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in broad daylight.

But the larger questions remained unanswered: Exactly who instigated the mass action on Sunday afternoon one quarter-mile west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry? And for what purpose?

Bryan Chilian said he was in the Tijuana River channel filming a documentary about homeless deportees when he and his two partners noticed the crowd shouting “¡Viva Villa!” and moving toward the border--and followed with their cameras. “We tried to figure out who was the leader, but we couldn’t,” Chilian said in an interview Tuesday. “We couldn’t see anyone leading or making signs.”

One of the partners, Jesús Guerra Huerta, said they didn’t recognize the participants from their months of documentary work in the area. “None of the people we know in the channel were there,” he said.

Video shot by the team showed participants of varying ages, including at least one woman, children and a man carrying his baby.

A copy of a leaflet calling for the march said it was organized “with the intention of crossing to the United States, to reunite with our children, families.” The Spanish-language text spoke of problems in Mexico, “and for that reason, we must unite and go to the United States.” It concluded by calling for discretion.

On Tuesday morning, at Padre Chava soup kitchen near the river channel, hundreds lined up for a free warm breakfast. Administrators said the center had no connection to the incident.

“It didn’t seem to be well organized,” said Bruno Alvarez said, a 41-year-old deportee and volunteer at the center, who said he learned of plans days before the incident from the leaflets distributed in the neighborhood outside.

He said he watched Sunday as people began converging in the area, but the timing was uncertain. “it was going to be at 10 a.m., then at noon, then at 1 p.m.” Alvarez said, who decided not to join. “It looked like it was going to fail before it even started.”

Near the soup kitchen, at a tent city for deportees set up by the group Angeles Sin Fronteras, coordinator Javier A. Reyes said the incident “had nothing to do” with his organization. “We don’t lend ourselves to crossing in a crowd, that would be seen as invading territory.”

U.S. Border Patrol agents used pepper spray and other means to repel the crowd that refused an order to stop, with some members hurling rocks and bottles at the agents. No arrests were made, and while a Border Patrol statement reported that Mexican authorities had been contacted, Tijuana police have denied knowledge of the incident.

Migrant advocates in Tijuana on expressed concern that it easily could have flared into a dangerous situation. “This is extremely serious, there could have been fatalities,” said Gilberto Martínez, administrator at Casa del Migrante, a migrant shelter in Colonia Postal.

Martínez and others questioned the aim of the march: If the purpose was to cross, they said, why would they have done so in the middle of the day and at that precise location?

“This seems to be very strange,” Martínez said. “There are a lot of things that don’t make sense.”