The U.S.-Mexico border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry was closed in both directions for more than five hours on Sunday after hundreds of migrants rushed the area, prompting federal authorities to launch tear gas in an apparent attempt to get the group to disperse.

The confrontation highlights the escalating tensions along the border as thousands of migrants from Central America poured into Tijuana in recent weeks seeking asylum to enter the U.S. President Trump has pushed to keep any migrants in Mexico as they await the immigration process.

Following Sunday’s events, the Mexican interior Ministry announced it would deport about 500 migrants who tried to “violently” and “illegally” cross the border. A Mexican federal police officer told the Union-Tribune that authorities were reviewing videotape of the confrontations at the border and would be detaining and deporting those involved.

The statement added that Mexican authorities had contained the protest at the crossing between Tijuana and San Diego and that, despite heightened tensions there, Mexico would not send military forces to control 7,417 migrants from a caravan currently amassed at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Tijuana Mayor Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum took to Twitter to address the incident saying, “We will not allow our binational relationship to be broken by the bad behavior of the migrant caravan.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials closed all vehicle and pedestrian crossings around 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

The pedestrian crossings were first to reopen about 3:45 p.m., followed by southbound freeway lanes and northbound vehicle processing lanes at 5 p.m.

The San Ysidro border crossing is one of the busiest ports of entry in the world, with more than 90,000 people crossing between San Diego and Tijuana on a daily basis, and the closures snarled traffic for miles in the area.

Ports of entry in Otay Mesa and Tecate remained open.

Migrants began marching from their shelter at the Benito Juarez sports complex, an open-air sports arena turned makeshift shelter, to Mexico’s El Chaparral border crossing Sunday morning.

Around 11:20 a.m., the group clashed with Mexican federal police in riot gear before rushing past authorities and through a concrete canal to an area of the border near the San Ysidro pedestrian bridge.

One of the Mexican officers trying to keep migrants from the area got into a scuffle and appeared to suffer a cut lip.

A number of tear-gas canisters were launched into the canal in an apparent attempt to get migrants to disperse, witnesses said.

A group of about 50 people managed to run past Mexican police to a small hole in the border fence. A helicopter circled overhead as some in the group threw rocks at agents on the other side and pulled at the fence.

U.S. authorities appeared to deploy less-lethal ammunition and flash bangs at the group, and people scattered.

Customs and Border Protection officials said on Twitter that Border Patrol agents deployed tear gas after several agents were hit by projectiles thrown by migrants.

Women and children dashed under a train to take cover, initially unaware the shots were coming from non-lethal explosive devices. A baby wailed while her mother tried to calm her, and cover her face with a torn shirt to protect her from the tear gas.

Members of the caravan said at least two people appeared to be injured during Sunday’s events, including one child.

During the incident, Tijuana Municipal Police detained 39 people, including 15 Mexicans and 24 Hondurans. Two of the Hondurans were women. Police worked to escort the group at the border back to the Benito Juarez, the sports complex.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Twitter that federal officials will “prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who destroys federal property, endangers our frontline operators, or violates our sovereignty.”

Things calmed soon after and one women could be heard speaking through a bull horn to U.S. Border patrol agents on the other side saying, “We don’t want war, we don’t want killing…”

At least three helicopters circled the area, and around 1:30 p.m., a large Homeland Security bus was ushered past the border barricade.

Customs and Border Protection had deployed additional personnel to the border due to multiple planned protests on both sides. The personnel included Customs and Border Protection officers, U.S. Border Patrol agents and Air and Marine agents recently sent to the region.

San Diego police also readied on-duty officers Sunday afternoon to respond to the border division if needed.

Lines of people who expected to cross into Mexico were clustered on a corner of Camino De La Plaza.

One Tijuana resident who had crossed to shop at the outlet mall said she had seen the group of migrants moving toward the border on her way to the mall that morning.

Though she worried about getting home, she said she felt compassion for the caravan, and had visited the sports complex to bring donations and talk with the migrants.

She said she met a woman whose suitcase had been stolen on the journey and whose child only had a sweater to wear. She said she bought the migrant family some clothes that said “I love Tijuana” as a way to apologize to the mother for the way her city had treated the asylum seeker.

“There’s a strong sense of depression,” the woman said. “I always ask myself, if they tolerate being here, being cold, sick and hungry, how must it be in their country?”

The woman did not give her name because there are some in Tijuana who are angry with the caravan and those who sympathize with them.

The closure was creating a traffic nightmare. At one point, traffic on southbound Interstate 805 was backed up more than 8 miles, from the U.S. border all the way past Plaza Boulevard in National City.

Caltrans said on Twitter that southbound lanes of I-805 were closed at state Route 905, with traffic being diverted to east and westbound state Route 905. Southbound Interstate 5 also was closed at SR-905. Access to southbound I-5 from westbound SR-905 also was shut down, the agency reported.

The Metropolitan Transit System suspended Blue Line Trolley service at San Ysidro Transit Center until the pedestrian crossings were reopened. MTS also halted service to the Virginia Transit Center. A temporary was set up outside the transit station on Camino De La Plaza.

The nearby Las Americas Outlet Mall was also closed Sunday due to the incident.

More than 6,200 Central American migrants have been camped out in muddy and cramped conditions at the makeshift shelter. Mexican authorities estimate an additional 1,669 migrants are trekking toward Baja California from the Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa.

Tijuana municipal authorities have said they are not equipped to handle the growing group. Human rights groups working with Mexico’s federal government promised to improve the conditions inside the shelters.

As migrants passed through the bustling border city, Mexican federal police and Edgar Corzo Sosa, the director of the National Human Rights Commission, have tried convincing them to turn around. Officials also urged the group to apply for workers visas in Mexico, claiming thousands of jobs were available in Tijuana.

The migrants have been trying to present themselves to United States immigration authorities for asylum, but the U.S. only processes 100 applications for asylum a day, a process that has slowed in recent months, leaving thousands on the waiting list.

Those applications are processed at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, not the pedestrian bridge where migrants said they planned to cross and where hundreds of migrants ran to on Sunday.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump threatened to completely shut down the border, and the $1.6 billion daily trading relationship with Mexico. He also authorized military forces to use lethal force “if necessary” to defend border agents from migrants attempting to cross into the U.S.

A Department of Homeland Security official said Monday there are an estimated 500 criminals traveling in the caravan. Local authorities in Baja California have detained 57 migrants of which 47 are Hondurans. They were taken into custody on suspicion of public disorderly conduct. Of those detained by local police, 42 of those migrants are now in deportation proceedings in Mexico, according to local police.

Staff writer Kate Morrissey contributed to this report.

(c)2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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