Two members of the group that led this spring’s immigrant caravan to the US–Mexico border were beaten and arrested by police in Tijuana late Tuesday, organizers said.
Irineo Mujica, the head of Pueblo Sin Fronteras ("People Without Borders"), and Israel López, a Guatemalan national and caravan organizer, were attacked by a group of Tijuana officers before being arrested, said witness Jackson Davier Figueroa Maldonado, who traveled with the caravan when it left the Mexico–Guatemala border and remained in Tijuana. The pair were released from police detention Wednesday afternoon.
According to Figueroa Maldonado, the group had gone to Tijuana's municipal police building in the Centenario district to ask about the arrest of a Honduran immigrant who also had been part of the caravan.
While the Pueblo Sin Fronteras group was asking questions about the arrest, Figueroa Maldonado said, the cops became aggressive, especially after the group started to record them. Then one of the officers said he was going to arrest Mujica for "public scandal."
"We defended him and said, 'No, don't arrest him,' and that's when four or five officers came out," Figueroa Maldonado told BuzzFeed News. "They threw him on the ground and started to beat him."
López, who has participated in two caravans and ran the group's social media for the one in 2017, also was thrown to the ground, and three officers began to choke him, Figueroa Maldonado said. The cops then threatened the rest of the group and told them to leave before something worse happened.
Mario Martinez, director for the Tijuana police, said Mujica was yelling and causing a scene inside a government building when he demanded the release of the Honduran immigrant.
An official went out to meet the group of seven men and one woman, Martinez said. The official told them they would give the group information on the arrest but Mujica continued to raise his voice at authorities, Martinez said, which led to his attempted arrest.
"He resisted arrest, throwing blows and kicks against the official hitting him on his leg and abdomen," Martinez told reporters at a press conference.
The official asked for help from other officers in detaining Mujica, Martinez said.
The Honduran immigrant who was arrested and the reason the group went to the police department was a 17-year-old minor. Martinez said the minor was detained due to "security" concerns because he was in an area known for drug sales, but added he had not broken any laws and that cops didn't know he was underage when they took him in.
Martinez said there were multiple videos taken by the group with Pueblo Sin Fronteras and added that he welcomes the investigation from Tijuana's public ministry.
"They got mad because we learned that when you talk to the police you have to record to have proof," Figueroa Maldonado said.
Footage of López being arrested.
The group had organized and participated in a "march for dignity" in Tijuana on Saturday, demanding respect for human rights and an end to detentions of immigrants without reason.
Pueblo Sin Fronteras led a caravan of hundreds of Central American immigrants through Mexico before arriving at the US–Mexico border in Tijuana. More than 300 people eventually entered the United States to seek asylum. As many as 100 members of the caravan remained in Tijuana, where they are currently living or planning their next move.
Members of the group, including Mujica, have remained in Tijuana to organize the people from the caravan, with police harassment being at the top of the list of issues they've been working on.
"We're tired of putting up with so much. That's why we had the protest this Saturday," Sandra Perez, a Honduran woman who was part of the caravan, said at a news conference. "The illegal arrests and detentions need to stop."
In a statement, Pueblo Sin Fronteras said police wanted to silence the group because they didn't want to face questions about police abuse. Mujica was on the phone with the office for human rights and López was recording on his phone when he was arrested, said Figueroa Maldonado and the organization.
"Any charges they file against them is an attempt to justify their violent actions," Pueblo Sin Fronteras said in the statement.