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Where the Caravan Stopped | Dissent Magazine

Where the Caravan Stopped | Dissent Magazine

The place the Caravan Stopped

Hundreds of asylum seekers dwelling in shelters on the U.S.-Mexico border face an unsure future. Hundreds extra are heading north. A report from Tijuana.

Sammy Feldblum ▪ January 31, 2019
Rocio, age 23, in entrance of the Barretal. She joined the caravan because it handed by way of Mexico Metropolis. (Sammy Feldblum)

The federal shutdown has ended, a minimum of briefly, in squalid defeat for President Trump. He did not safe funding for his signature border wall, and none appears forthcoming. True to type, the extended shutdown eclipsed one other immigration story that Trump had pushed to the highest of the information cycle only a couple months earlier: the caravan of 6,000 or so Central American migrants making their approach towards the USA. They arrived in Tijuana in November to seek out the border much less hospitable than that they had been led to consider: a pre-existing backlog meant that they might not be granted speedy “credible worry” hearings to start out the asylum software course of, with waitlists that stretched in some instances for months. Some tried to cross the border anyway, some went house, however most waited, shuttling between makeshift shelters in a metropolis overwhelmed by the brand new arrivals.

The migrants’ outlook worsened on December 20, two days earlier than the shutdown went into impact, when the Trump administration introduced that these awaiting asylum hearings would not be allowed into america following that preliminary “credible worry” interview, as has historically been the case. As an alternative, they might be pressured to stay in Mexico. On January 25 of this yr, that coverage started to take impact with a pilot effort on the San Ysidro crossing between Tijuana and San Diego.

At the moment, most of the migrants from the primary caravan stay in Mexico, even because the dialog north of the border has careened previous them. They determined to make their method via Tijuana to keep away from areas alongside the Texas border thought-about extra violent on account of cartel exercise. However Tijuana simply had its deadliest yr on report, with over 2,500 murders. Most of these nonetheless within the metropolis are staying within the Barretal, a transformed music venue southeast of city the place they moved in December after circumstances within the previous sports activities area the place that they had been sheltered deteriorated beneath heavy rains. In December, two individuals threw a tear fuel cannister inside. The identical month, two members of the caravan have been killed in a botched theft whereas awaiting asylum hearings. Now, closely armed Mexican federal police guard the perimeter, ostensibly to maintain the migrants protected.

Whereas Mexico has lengthy been thought-about pleasant to newcomers, the temper in Tijuana has soured: by pushing ready migrants south, the tightened border pushed native resentment south with them. When a gaggle tried dashing the border over Thanksgiving weekend, U.S. border patrol brokers fired tear fuel at them and shut down crossings for 5 hours, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in misplaced financial exercise on each side of the border. Locals largely blamed the migrants. The mayor of Tijuana, Juan Manuel Gastélum, has drawn consideration for his nativist views, calling some members of the caravan “bums” and “pot people who smoke” and saying, bluntly, “We don’t need them right here.”

“It sucks, as a result of I do know that Tijuana obtained a very dangerous rap, and naturally there are douchebags all over the place,” stated a lady who works for the federal government and requested anonymity. “It’s not like we hate migrants, and we don’t need them right here—we’re a metropolis of migrants, all of us. There’s nobody right here that doesn’t have a narrative of immigration of their household. We’re a border city. However they obtained rowdy. You’ll be able to’t have that many individuals with none order, dwelling in little tents. Tijuana doesn’t have the assets to deal with that many individuals directly.”

Padre Pat Murphy runs the Casa Del Migrante, a decades-old shelter for males close to the town middle. Murphy has a shuffling gait and speaks in an accent inflected together with his native New York. Till this yr, the Casa has principally housed deportees from the north, offering meals, a mattress, social staff, and assist discovering work. With the caravan’s arrival, greater than 70 % of their clientele are Central People shifting north.

The lack of native authorities to organize for the caravan, even with advance discover, troubles Murphy. The lack of expertise amid systemic flux exacerbates that fear. Virtually two weeks after the brand new U.S. coverage was introduced, Murphy had but to listen to something official from the Mexican authorities on the modifications to asylum coverage. “In the event that they settle for it [the U.S. policy]they haven’t talked to the individuals who run the shelters,” he stated. “They haven’t given any plans to how they’re going to deal with these individuals. As a result of as soon as it goes into full impact, Mexico, the northern border, will develop into the ‘ready room,’ as lots of people are saying, for your complete world. And the overwhelming majority will come to Tijuana, as a result of San Diego has the popularity of being extra organized and processing individuals shortly.”

However assets within the metropolis already really feel stretched. “In all probability there’s three, 4 thousand Central People within the metropolis proper now. If they begin coming in large numbers to ask for political asylum, it’s going to be actually a scary proposition right here to have all these individuals are available and no place for them to remain.”

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s new president, has pushed for a “Marshall Plan” for Central America that may make investments $30 billion within the native economies of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and poorer southern areas in Mexico, to ameliorate the circumstances that lead individuals emigrate within the first place—violence, poverty, and drought amongst them. Trump’s administration has earmarked $10.6 billion in funds for the world, however most of it’s reallocated from present help. Within the meantime, the López Obrador administration has accommodated itself to elevated migration from the south by expediting its software course of for one-year humanitarian visas, shortening wait occasions from a month to 5 days. Nonetheless, with many migrants making an attempt to finally attain america, Tijuana is left holding the bag. “One of many issues we’re going to be asking the federal government is, okay, if we assist, how are you going to assist us?” Murphy says. “I do not know what this implies. Are we speaking about one thousand individuals a yr, or 20,000 individuals a yr? Thirty thousand? It’s arduous to think about.” In mid-January, one other caravan of 12,000 individuals left Honduras heading north.


When the primary migrant caravan arrived in Tijuana final November, they discovered that almost three,000 asylum seekers have been already in line awaiting an preliminary asylum listening to. U.S. Customs and Border Safety have been processing 60 to 100 asylum requests a day, based on Anthony Rogers-Wright, who calls that quantity unnecessarily low; by slowing the method to a crawl, the border brokers are creating a man-made bottleneck.

“It’s not my place to say it’s being accomplished by design,” he says, “nevertheless it seems to be very passive-aggressive. Like: frustrate, discourage, after which they only surrender.” Rogers-Wright is a volunteer with the New Sanctuary Coalition, a faith-based group that gives help to migrants making use of for asylum and, if they’re granted entry, helps them to combine into American society. After the caravan brought on such a firestorm north of the border, he traveled from Seattle to help. I met him outdoors the Barretal on a dry January afternoon. He and a crew of colleagues had arrange a sales space to assist migrants put together for his or her asylum hearings. Every day’s appointments are determined by a semi-formal listing, which has been round because the Obama administration started “metering” asylum hearings within the face of a caravan of Haitian migrants who got here via city in 2016. The ledger of those numbers, la lista, is dealt with by the migrants themselves. An indication atop the New Sanctuary Coalition’s desk listed the newest quantity to be referred to as.

Rogers-Wright is a local weather activist, and says he got here to assist as a result of “this can be a direct results of the local weather disaster. It’s not simply concerning the storms, it’s concerning the human impression. We’re going to see extra of this around the globe if we don’t take fast motion, and lasting motion, on this local weather disaster. Extra local weather migrants, extra skirmishes between individuals preventing over restricted assets.”

Close to an intersection down the road, I spoke with Noe Diaz Moreno, 46, who, like different members of the caravan, wears an ID tag together with his identify and residential nation so as to have the ability to enter and exit the Barretal. He advised me he’d been robbed by a narco in Honduras and threatened with demise if he went to the police. When he noticed details about the caravan on social media and tv, he determined to return.

He left his spouse and daughters again in Honduras and hoped to seek out work in the USA to remit cash south. On their march north, Moreno stated, “we suffered. We noticed issues that we by no means anticipated—people who have been thrown from vans, they fell asleep and fell off at midnight. Moms that left their youngsters alone driving on automobiles, deserted youngsters, individuals kidnapped en route—many who jumped on buses or vans and have been taken elsewhere.” Nevertheless it was value it to succeed in the USA, the place wages have been larger. Particularly since, in Tijuana, “it’s actually harmful too. And so we don’t need to keep right here, as a result of we think about that the police listed here are the identical: corrupt, purchased and bought. We need to arrive in a rustic the place the legal guidelines are stricter.” Nonetheless, he felt safer because of the federales and marines lining the Barretal.

Close by, Marla Brewa, from La Ceiba, Honduras, sat together with her sister on folding chairs whereas their two youngsters performed. Brewa, like the opposite migrants, was making an attempt to type by way of the rumors about what awaited them. “It’s not so protected right here,” she stated. “We need to attain the opposite aspect. They are saying that there they provide you asylum. They usually informed me that on the opposite aspect, they provide me fifteen days of permission after which deport me to Honduras. So for my daughter, why am I going to go to the opposite aspect in the event that they’re going to ship me to Honduras, if my life is in peril in Honduras? I can’t. So I’m arranging my papers for Mexico, right here. To be right here for some time, and keep in a protected home or one thing like that, and to work.” Nonetheless, she want to cross north ultimately. Her three-year-old daughter, Arcy, was sick: her eyes jaundiced, her lip blistered, she appeared to have a throat an infection and had been unable to eat something recently however soup. A physician that visited the Barretal couldn’t diagnose her past saying she in all probability acquired the sickness on the street. In any case, Marla stated, there was no drugs.

Brewa anticipated it will be months but earlier than something occurred. She credited the individuals of Mexico with serving to the caravan alongside because it got here north. However “once we lastly arrived right here,” she stated, “they didn’t deal with us the identical as earlier than.”

The Tijuanense authorities employee I spoke to had an evidence for that: “It’s totally different as soon as they keep.”


López Obrador is hoping that proactive coverage will assist combine Central People into Mexican society extra extensively, diffusing the strain on Tijuana and demonstrating what a extra humane immigration coverage may appear to be within the area. Along with expediting the visa course of for migrants, the Mexican federal authorities raised the federal minimal wage 16 % in January, hoping to induce a few of the newcomers to work in low-skill jobs across the nation for which employers are having hassle discovering staff, and he has pledged to fund public works tasks that may create new employment. Nonetheless, the increase solely introduced the ground to shut to 5 dollars a day nationwide and a shade under 9 dollars a day in northern border states—simply above the federal hourly minimal wage in the USA—which is why, regardless of a extra welcoming local weather in Mexico, most of the migrants hope to maintain shifting north. If the official crossings grow to be impermeable, stated Moreno, “individuals will depart to cross the border elsewhere, however nonetheless go north. Right here is nearly the identical as Honduras, the cash right here. It’s little.” Once I spoke with Moreno, he had already been in Tijuana for over a month, ready. “It’s the identical all the time,” he stated. “Simply eager about when the second will come once we’re chosen. Within the caravan, everyone seems to be ready for his or her quantity.”

The “stay in Mexico” coverage’s rollout means the wait to enter america will solely develop longer. With border areas so typically unsafe, the brand new restrictions on asylum seekers are almost sure to face challenges in courtroom. Lawyer Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Venture—who helped lead a profitable lawsuit towards earlier federal restrictions on asylum claims by migrants who had crossed outdoors an official border crossing—informed the AP that “this plan can’t be executed lawfully and can end in numerous individuals in life-threatening conditions.” However for now, the border bottleneck and fickle U.S. coverage coming from the Trump White Home have created a established order of desperation and confusion at the USA’ doorstep. In the meantime, caravans of refugees proceed to depart the nations to Mexico’s south.

As I spoke to Moreno, a scuffle broke out in entrance of the Barretal’s essential entrance. Three males in cuffs have been being led into the again of a pick-up truck by police. One, crying, middle-aged, managed to tug his hat down to cover his face. The youngest started to weep silently as nicely. The third stared stone-faced on the arid mountains to the south. A crowd stood round and filmed on their cellphones. No one might identify the lads’s infraction. The truck rolled off in a cloud of mud.

Sammy Feldblum lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and reviews from everywhere in the map.

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