TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) - Twelve athletes swam across the border from the United States to Mexico in a show of solidarity with immigrants amid a charged political climate.
Swimmers from the United States, Mexico, Israel, New Zealand and South Africa were escorted by a Mexican Navy ship as they reached a beach in Tijuana, a short distance from a border fence that juts into the Pacific Ocean. More than 100 schoolchildren cheered, and Mexico's top immigration official in the region applauded them at a public celebration of the 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) swim from Imperial Beach, California.
Organizer Kim Chambers of New Zealand, who is living in San Francisco as a legal permanent resident of the U.S., was overwhelmed by the jubilant reception.
"At the end of the day, water connects all of us," she said. "It doesn't matter which way you're going."
Chambers, 39, came up with the idea shortly after a group swim across the Red Sea from Jordan to Israel to raise environmental awareness. She said it wasn't a protest, but an atmosphere of what she called negativity after the election of President Donald Trump was the catalyst.
The swim raised money for the Colibri Center for Human Rights, a Tucson, Arizona, group that helps families identify immigrants who die on the perilous trek across the border.
Rodulfo Figueroa, Mexico's top immigration official in Baja California state, told the swimmers that their exercise was a "very nice symbol." Mexican authorities examined their passports before they launched from California.
"We are closer than it seems at times," said Figueroa, regional delegate of Mexico's National Immigration Institute, who was joined by Tijuana city officials.
American kayakers accompanied the swimmers to the U.S.-Mexico line, where an iconic fence shoots out into the Pacific Ocean.
Chambers toyed with the idea of swimming from Mexico to the United States and going back and forth but decided that going from the U.S. to Mexico would be the least complicated path.
The U.S. Border Patrol, which is always on alert for swimmers, kayakers and surfers trying to sneak in the country, said organizers would have been required to enter the country through an official border crossing.