It’s an image almost every San Diegan has seen: the long fence on the most southwest part of the California border with Mexico that stretches into the Pacific Ocean. Directly on the south side is the Playas neighborhood of Tijuana, and directly on the north side is the city of Imperial Beach.
People are often photographed on either side of it. But on top of it? Climbing over it? That’s rare.
As international attention began to focus on a caravan of migrants arriving in Tijuana, Mexico, this week, images of some migrants scaling the U.S.-Mexico border fence near San Diego have prompted the question about what, if anything, border agents can do about it.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents have not made any significant arrests on the American side of the fence yet, Border Patrol spokesman Theron Francisco told The San Diego Union-Tribune. But agents are monitoring the situation around the clock with this week’s arrival of hundreds of migrants.
To understand what is happening at the border as these migrants arrive and some start scaling the fence, here’s what we’ve been able to learn:
When did caravan migrants begin to arrive?
Migrants began arriving by the hundreds as early as Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. More migrants began arriving on Wednesday. While some of them can be seen celebrating on the fence in images, more are reported to be placed in shelters and homes across Tijuana.
It is unclear how many, if any, of the migrants scaling the fence are part of the caravan that’s been reported traveling from south and central America.
Why are migrants scaling the fence?
Some migrants have scaled the fence to celebrate their arrival, the Associated Press reported. Migrants were heard chanting, “Yes, we could!” while others were seen sitting, standing or walking on the fence. In one instance, the AP reported, a man was seen dropping over to the U.S. side of the fence briefly as federal border agents watched in the distance.
Francisco told the Union-Tribune that the migrants are doing this to taunt and test the agents who are observing the situation from several yards away.
Mexican media and KPBS have reported that some asylum seekers worry that the process to enter the U.S. has become overwhelmed with applicants and, spurred by those fears, some migrants are crossing over the fence.
Is the fence part of the United States?
Yes. The fence is property of the U.S., Francisco said.
Border agents can be seen standing and watching migrants scale the fence. What can they do?
Francisco told The San Diego Union-Tribune that agents plan to make arrests of anyone crossing illegally only when they’ve reached far enough into the U.S. side of the border,
“Depending on the situation, we’ll make arrests,” he said. “We’re not going to go in there and yank them off the fence. It’s not going to be safe for us.”
Francisco said that because of the large gathering of migrants on the south side of the border, agents are exercising caution in not escalating tensions and provoking a confrontation. In a few instances the last few days, migrants have been seen being detained just on the north side of the fence.
Can Mexican authorities intervene?
It’s unclear what, if anything, Mexican authorities can do to prevent migrants from scaling the fence.
These officials are encouraging migrants to sleep at a nearby sports complex but they have said that “we will not remove them by force,” The Desert Sun reported. In some videos posted online by Mexican news media, Mexican police can be seen standing by as migrants scale the fence.
Should residents in nearby communities be worried?
Members of at least two Facebook groups dedicated to public safety in Imperial Beach have voiced concerns that migrants might enter the U.S., but CBP says residents have nothing to worry about.
Imperial Beach shares its coastal beach with Tijuana, and Francisco said border agents are monitoring that portion of the fence 24 hours a day. He added that agents are well equipped with all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, as well as horses and trucks.
“There’s nothing to be concerned about,” Francisco said. “We have enough agents on the ground to make apprehensions. Border Patrol agents have that covered.”
Besides monitoring the situation, what else have federal border agents done to prevent migrants from climbing over the fence?
In the last 24 hours, workers have added reinforcements like razor concertina wire along both the top and the bottom of the fence to prevent more migrants from scaling it, Francisco said.
Has this happened before?
Yes. In April, migrants scaled the fence on the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego. That was also reported at the time.
And last year, a Mexican congressman was seen scaling the wall to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration goal of building a border wall which he called “totally absurd.”
What happens when migrants seek asylum at the border?
Migrants can seek asylum at the border when entering a port of entry, but the process can take months, The San Diego Union-Tribune has reported. Those seeking asylum are interviewed and screened by a number of federal agencies before making their case before a judge.
Many migrants who arrive at the border seeking asylum are from Honduras and El Salvador and say they are fleeing violence in their country, Al Jazeera reported.