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Where the Caravan Stopped | Dissent Magazine

Where the Caravan Stopped | Dissent Magazine

Where the Caravan Stopped

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

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

The federal shutdown has ended, no less than briefly, in squalid defeat for President Trump. He did not secure funding for his signature border wall, and none appears forthcoming. True to type, the extended shutdown eclipsed another immigration story that Trump had pushed to the prime of the information cycle just a couple months earlier: the caravan of 6,000 or so Central American migrants making their approach toward the United States. 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 fear” hearings to start out the asylum software process, with waitlists that stretched in some instances for months. Some tried to cross the border anyway, some went residence, however most waited, shuttling between makeshift shelters in a metropolis overwhelmed by the new arrivals.

The migrants’ outlook worsened on December 20, two days before the shutdown went into effect, when the Trump administration introduced that these awaiting asylum hearings would not be allowed into the United States following that initial “credible fear” 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 policy started to take impact with a pilot effort at the San Ysidro crossing between Tijuana and San Diego.

At the moment, lots of the migrants from the first caravan remain in Mexico, whilst the conversation north of the border has careened past them. They determined to make their method via Tijuana to keep away from areas along the Texas border thought-about extra violent because of cartel exercise. But Tijuana simply had its deadliest yr on document, with over 2,500 murders. Most of those nonetheless in the metropolis are staying in the Barretal, a converted music venue southeast of city where they moved in December after circumstances in the previous sports activities area where that they had been sheltered deteriorated beneath heavy rains. In December, two individuals threw a tear fuel cannister inside. The same month, two members of the caravan have been killed in a botched robbery while awaiting asylum hearings. Now, closely armed Mexican federal police guard the perimeter, ostensibly to keep the migrants protected.

While Mexico has long been thought-about friendly to newcomers, the temper in Tijuana has soured: by pushing waiting 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 five hours, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost economic exercise on each side of the border. Locals largely blamed the migrants. The mayor of Tijuana, Juan Manuel Gastélum, has drawn attention for his nativist views, calling some members of the caravan “bums” and “pot smokers” and saying, bluntly, “We don’t want them here.”

“It sucks, because I know that Tijuana got a really bad rap, and of course there are douchebags everywhere,” stated a lady who works for the government and requested anonymity. “It’s not like we hate migrants, and we don’t want them here—we are a city of migrants, all of us. There’s no one here that doesn’t have a story of immigration in their family. We’re a border town. But they got rowdy. You can’t have that many people without any order, living in little tents. Tijuana doesn’t have the resources to house that many people at once.”

Padre Pat Murphy runs the Casa Del Migrante, a decades-old shelter for males near the city 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, providing food, a bed, social staff, and assist finding work. With the caravan’s arrival, more than 70 % of their clientele are Central People shifting north.

The lack of native authorities to organize for the caravan, even with advance notice, troubles Murphy. The lack of know-how amid systemic flux exacerbates that fear. Virtually two weeks after the new U.S. policy was announced, Murphy had yet to hear something official from the Mexican government on the modifications to asylum coverage. “If they accept it [the U.S. policy], they haven’t talked to the people who run the shelters,” he stated. “They haven’t given any plans to how they’re going to house these people. Because once it goes into full effect, Mexico, the northern border, will become the ‘waiting room,’ as a lot of people are saying, for the entire world. And the vast majority will come to Tijuana, because San Diego has the reputation of being more organized and processing people quickly.”

However assets in the city already feel stretched. “Probably there’s three, four thousand Central Americans in the city right now. If they start coming in huge numbers to ask for political asylum, it’s going to be really a scary proposition here to have all these people come in and no place for them to stay.”

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s new president, has pushed for a “Marshall Plan” for Central America that may invest $30 billion in the native economies of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and poorer southern regions in Mexico, to ameliorate the circumstances that lead individuals to migrate in the first place—violence, poverty, and drought among them. Trump’s administration has earmarked $10.6 billion in funds for the space, however most of it’s reallocated from present assist. In the meantime, the López Obrador administration has accommodated itself to increased 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 reach the United States, Tijuana is left holding the bag. “One of the things we’re going to be asking the government is, okay, if we help, how are you going to help us?” Murphy says. “I have no idea what this means. Are we talking about one thousand people a year, or 20,000 people a year? Thirty thousand? It’s hard to imagine.” In mid-January, another caravan of 12,000 individuals left Honduras heading north.


When the first migrant caravan arrived in Tijuana final November, they discovered that almost 3,000 asylum seekers have been already in line awaiting an initial 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 course of to a crawl, the border agents are creating a man-made bottleneck.

“It’s not my place to say it’s being done by design,” he says, “but it appears to be very passive-aggressive. Like: frustrate, discourage, and then they just give up.” Rogers-Wright is a volunteer with the New Sanctuary Coalition, a faith-based group that provides assistance to migrants applying for asylum and, if they are granted entry, helps them to combine into American society. After the caravan induced 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 set up a sales space to help migrants prepare for his or her asylum hearings. Each day’s appointments are determined by a semi-formal record, which has been round since the Obama administration began “metering” asylum hearings in the face of a caravan of Haitian migrants who got here by way of town in 2016. The ledger of those numbers, la lista, is dealt with by the migrants themselves. An indication atop the New Sanctuary Coalition’s table listed the newest number to be referred to as.

Rogers-Wright is a climate activist, and says he came to help because “this is a direct result of the climate crisis. It’s not just about the storms, it’s about the human impact. We’re going to see more of this around the world if we don’t take immediate action, and lasting action, on this climate crisis. More climate migrants, more skirmishes between people fighting over limited resources.”

Close to an intersection down the road, I spoke with Noe Diaz Moreno, 46, who, like other members of the caravan, wears an ID tag together with his identify and residential country in order to be able to enter and exit the Barretal. He informed me he’d been robbed by a narco in Honduras and threatened with dying if he went to the police. When he saw details about the caravan on social media and television, he determined to return.

He left his spouse and daughters again in Honduras and hoped to seek out work in the United States to remit money south. On their march north, Moreno stated, “we suffered. We saw things that we never expected—people that were thrown from trucks, they fell asleep and fell off at midnight. Mothers that left their kids alone riding on vehicles, abandoned kids, people kidnapped en route—many that jumped on buses or trucks and were taken elsewhere.” Nevertheless it was value it to succeed in the United States, the place wages have been larger. Particularly since, in Tijuana, “it’s really dangerous too. And so we don’t want to stay here, because we imagine that the police here are the same: corrupt, bought and sold. We want to arrive in a country where the laws are stricter.” Still, he felt safer because of the federales and marines lining the Barretal.

Nearby, Marla Brewa, from La Ceiba, Honduras, sat together with her sister on folding chairs while their two youngsters played. Brewa, like the other migrants, was making an attempt to type by way of the rumors about what awaited them. “It’s not so safe here,” she stated. “We want to reach the other side. They say that there they give you asylum. And they told me that on the other side, they give me fifteen days of permission and then deport me to Honduras. So for my daughter, why am I going to go to the other side if they’re going to send me to Honduras, if my life is in danger in Honduras? I can’t. So I’m arranging my papers for Mexico, here. To be here for a while, and stay in a safe house or something like that, and to work.” Still, she want to cross north ultimately. Her three-year-old daughter, Arcy, was sick: her eyes jaundiced, her lip blistered, she seemed to have a throat an infection and had been unable to eat anything recently but soup. A physician that visited the Barretal couldn’t diagnose her beyond saying she in all probability acquired the sickness on the street. In any case, Marla stated, there was no drugs.

Brewa anticipated it might be months but before anything happened. She credited the individuals of Mexico with serving to the caravan along as it got here north. But “when we finally arrived here,” she stated, “they didn’t treat us the same as before.”

The Tijuanense authorities employee I spoke to had an evidence for that: “It’s different once they stay.”


López Obrador is hoping that proactive policy will assist combine Central People into Mexican society more extensively, diffusing the strain on Tijuana and demonstrating what a more humane immigration coverage may seem like in the region. Along with expediting the visa course of for migrants, the Mexican federal government raised the federal minimum wage 16 % in January, hoping to induce a few of the newcomers to work in low-skill jobs around the nation for which employers are having hassle discovering staff, and he has pledged to fund public works tasks that may create new employment. Still, the increase solely brought the flooring to close to five dollars a day nationwide and a shade under nine dollars a day in northern border states—simply above the federal hourly minimum wage in the United States—which is why, regardless of a extra welcoming local weather in Mexico, lots of the migrants hope to keep shifting north. If the official crossings grow to be impermeable, stated Moreno, “people will leave to cross the border elsewhere, but still go north. Here is almost the same as Honduras, the money here. It’s little.” Once I spoke with Moreno, he had already been in Tijuana for over a month, waiting. “It’s the same always,” he stated. “Just thinking about when the moment will come when we’re selected. In the caravan, everyone is waiting for their number.”

The “remain in Mexico” coverage’s rollout means the wait to enter the United States will only develop longer. With border areas so typically unsafe, the 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 Challenge—who helped lead a successful lawsuit towards earlier federal restrictions on asylum claims by migrants who had crossed outdoors an official border crossing—advised the AP that “this plan cannot be done lawfully and will result in countless people in life-threatening situations.” However for now, the border bottleneck and fickle U.S. policy coming from the Trump White Home have created a established order of desperation and confusion at the United States’ doorstep. Meanwhile, caravans of refugees continue to depart the nations to Mexico’s south.

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

Sammy Feldblum lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and stories from all over the map.

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