U.S. closes Mexico crossing after shooting

September 23rd, 2009 by

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – U.S. authorities closed the world’s busiest land border crossing for several hours on Tuesday after suspected Mexican human traffickers tried to enter with illegal immigrants, U.S. officials said.

U.S. agents fired at three vans packed with about 70 illegal immigrants that tried to evade heavy security and cross into the United States, the officials said.

“The port is closed and will remain closed for several hours,” U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokeswoman Angelica De Cima said after the incident at the congested San Ysidro crossing between the Mexican city of Tijuana and San Diego.

Three people in the vans and a motorist were wounded, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Officials said the suspected migrants did not open fire on U.S. agents as initial reports had suggested.

“Three vans attempted to run the port through one of the northbound vehicle lanes to avoid inspection,” De Cima said, adding that two agents fired their weapons. “I cannot confirm that fire was returned,” she added.

Mack said the border crossing partially reopened on Tuesday evening. A Mexican border hotline for motorists said seven lanes at the crossing were open.

Mexico’s violent drug gangs are increasingly moving into the lucrative people-smuggling business, but tight U.S. border security is forcing them to take bigger risks to get narcotics and illegal immigrants into the United States.

The brazen attempt was unprecedented at the heavily guarded crossing where helicopters circle overhead and armed agents with dogs keep watch at a series of staggered checkpoints.

All the illegal immigrants were arrested and taken into custody. The crossing, a major smuggling corridor for narcotics and illegal immigrants, was shut while police conducted the investigation.

Some 90 million people a year use the California-Mexico land border crossings, with almost half the traffic going through San Ysidro.

Angry drivers blared car horns as a huge traffic jam built up on the Mexican side while U.S. agents signaled them to turn around.

“I’ve never known the entire crossing to be closed before. We just didn’t believe the agents when they told us to turn around,” said a Mexican student who gave his name as Juan Carlos and who crosses the border almost daily.

U.S. officials are directing motorists to California’s other six border crossing, which also handle trucks.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana, Robin Emmott in Monterrey and Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; writing by Robin Emmott)

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