Tijuana Has Effectively Become A Waiting Room for US-Bound Central American Migrants

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As the Central American migrant caravan reaches the US-Mexico border, US facilities that were designed to handle a “trickle” are quickly reaching capacity as migrants begin to flood the camps at the border. And although the journey through Latin America is complete at this point, the physical border, the outrageous amount of paperwork and growing queue for entry combine to present a daunting obstacle in and of itself.

“Less than a week old, the shelter has assumed the squalor of an overwhelmed refugee camp, and the rhythms of enforced idleness have taken hold. One group spends hours watching karaoke singers at an end of the basketball courts there, while men bet on cards at the other. Children dart around a playground. Women fold donated blankets in the reflexive gestures of tidying up at home, now just a tiny patch under a large tent.

City officials, who fear that as many as 10,000 migrants from this caravan and two more behind it may ultimately alight in Tijuana in the coming weeks, are scrambling to provide for them.

“I sleep only three hours a night, and when I close my eyes I count migrants, not sheep,” said César Palencia Chávez, the director of migrant services for Tijuana. “No city can be prepared for the arrival of 5,000 people over three to four days. We are doing what’s humanely possible.”

The number of migrants at the shelter swelled to almost 2,500 this weekend, with room for only 1,000 more.

But an estimated 3,400 are waiting in Mexicali, a border city two and half hours to the east, and most of those are expected to reach Tijuana on Monday, said Maggie Núñez, who was working with Pueblo sin Fronteras, an advocacy group that is assisting the caravan.

A migrant from El Salvador at the border fence in Tijuana, Mexico.CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times.

Tijuana’s mayor, Juan Manuel Gastélum, has estimated that if all of the Central American migrants traveling north come to the city and seek asylum in the United States, it could take six months for their claims to be heard at the main port of entry to San Diego.

They must take their turn behind about 3,000 others — from Mexico, nations across Central and South America, and even West Africa — who are waiting for an interview with a United States asylum officer. The delay may last as long as two months.

New rules issued by the Trump administration this month are designed to funnel asylum seekers to an official port of entry rather than allowing them to present themselves to the Border Patrol if they make it across the border illegally.

As the bottleneck in Tijuana has grown, it has threatened to try the patience of a city that is itself the creation of migrants and typically provides for them through church-run shelters.”

Read the full article in the NYT here.

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