A clash between more than 100 migrants and U.S. border agents appears to have been coordinated, a Border Patrol union spokesperson told Fusion.
On Monday, Border Patrol agents encountered an unusual scene: a mob of migrants trying to cross illegally from Mexico into the U.S. near the San Ysidro port of entry in California.
The migrants threw rocks and bottles at agents who were trying to stop them, the agency told reporters. No one was seriously injured, no shots were fired and no arrests were made, according to Border Patrol. Agents did fire pellets containing pepper powder at the people trying to cross.
Shawn Moran, the vice president for the National Border Patrol Council, said on Tuesday that he had spoken with agents on the scene, who told him the action appeared pre-arranged.
“We’re concerned that it may be some of the tactics that these immigrant rights groups were talking about,” Moran said. “Agents don’t pass laws; we don’t write policy. If they have a problem with the immigration laws in this country, they need to tell Congress.”
In August and September, dozens of undocumented immigrant activists entered the U.S. from Mexico in a protest against deportation policies. So far, however, no group has taken credit for the melee on Monday.
Several activists affiliated with the earlier protests did not respond to an immediate request for comment. Previous protests were heavily publicized; the confrontation on Monday was not promoted publically.
Moran, who spent 14 years working in the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector, said that the area is a kind of no-man’s-land where you wouldn’t see large groups of people crossing.
“Even when it’s not a protest, there’s always someone coordinating these things, whether it be a smuggler or a guide,” Moran said.
Moran said that the would-be crossers on Monday were pushed back into Mexico by agents, a common strategy in that area.
The scene could have been pulled from the late 1980s or early 1990s, when migrants would try to overwhelm U.S. agents with a mad rush at the border.
But the once-porous border in California has become a veritable fortress, with more fencing, agents and cameras in recent decades.
The added security has had a big impact.
In the 1992 fiscal year, Border Patrol recorded 565,581 apprehensions in the San Diego area, a modern-day high.
The number people caught trying to cross the border illegally has dramatically declined through the decades, however. In the 2012 fiscal year, apprehensions in that sector dropped to 28,461.
Border Patrol agents consider rock throwing a use of deadly force, and empower agents to respond with gunfire. But no shots were fired in the latest incident.
“Agents used great restraint,” Moran told CBS News 8. The union leader told the local outlet that agents have the right to used deadly force in a situation like that, if necessary.
“I think an agent could have easily justified due to the situation with over a 100 people advancing toward him, being outnumbered and in fear for their life,” he said.