On Sunday, hundreds of people were dispersed with tear gas along the US–Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, as they attempted to gain access to the United States by illegally crossing the Tijuana River. US authorities briefly closed the San Ysidro port of entry, which is one of the busiest border crossings in the world.
This is the latest confrontation as thousands of people from South America make their way toward the border in hopes of beginning a new chapter of their lives in the United States.
Reuters photographer Kim Kyung-Hoon has been documenting the caravan since Nov. 14 and was present at the time of the confrontation at the San Ysidro port of entry. His image of a mother fleeing tear gas with her two children has been widely hailed as a powerful and instantly iconic image that captures the harsh reality faced by families attempting to enter the United States from Mexico.
Here, Kim Kyung-Hoon speaks with BuzzFeed News on his experience documenting the caravan and the moments that lead to this iconic image.
After arriving in Mexico City, I met with a large group of migrants who were resting in Navojoa, Mexico. It’s been this group that I’ve been traveling with since arriving.
From Navojoa, many of the migrants were able to find a bus to get them near the border. However, they were soon forced to walk the remainder of the their journey on the highway. Some were able to flag down transportation and make their way to Tijuana, Mexico.
I arrived in Tijuana soon after and have since been covering the migrants as they find shelter and march toward the US–Mexico border. The picture of the mother and her barefoot children was taken at the moment when hundreds of these migrants were approaching the razor-wire fence that lines the border of US and Mexico.
After first being stopped by officials, a group of migrants discovered a different route and began to accumulate at the bottom of the Tijuana River, where a large concrete canal divides the two countries. Some of the migrants began to cross the river and began to make a run for the border, while others watched from the riverbanks.
At this point the border guards sent troops beyond the razor wire to meet the migrants. I began to see some men attempting to dismantle the fence, which was when the US Border Patrol fired tear gas at the people.
It was after this happened that the picture of the woman and her children was taken.
At the time, this family was standing near me as the scene unfolded, about four or five meters from the razor wire. When the tear gas was deployed they began to run away. You can see in the picture that the tear gas canister had landed just right behind them.
When I first saw them I noticed that the two girls were still wearing diapers. One was wearing pink sandals while the other was walking barefoot. After the tear gas was deployed, the mother took each girl by the hand and started running through the mud of the Tijuana River. In that chaotic moment, the girl with the pink sandals lost her footwear and was not able to find them again. She too became barefoot.
I followed them to the top of the riverbank, and while I do not speak Spanish, I was able to learn that the family is coming from Honduras. On Monday morning we were able to find the family again. We learned that the woman is traveling with five kids and is hoping to be reunited with her husband, the father of her children, who is currently living in Louisiana.
For me, this picture tells the story of what’s really happening at the border right now. I did not expect such a huge response to this picture. The reason why I’m here is to document and witness what is happening at the moment.
Yesterday, I did not expect that this kind of thing would happen, so I cannot expect what will happen tomorrow or the day after. My job is to hear, to see, and to document. After documenting the caravan for myself and seeing everything firsthand, I believe that all the migrants want is a chance for a better life.