Just south of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, dozens of migrants from Haiti and various African countries sat on the sidewalk, awaiting a chance to cross into the U.S.
Among them was Jean Felix, who said he arrived in Tijuana from the Democratic Republic of Congo with his wife and daughter this week.
“I want a better life to see if I can help my family, who stayed back home. Because it’s bad over there. They don’t have anything," Felix said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seen a recent spike in migrants from Haiti and other countries. Some of them seek political asylum, while others come for better economic opportunities.
In broken Spanish, Felix said he was here for both reasons, and that he was eager to speak with U.S. immigration officials after his two-month trip by plane, boat and foot through South and Central America.
Rodulfo Figueroa, Mexico's top immigration official in the state of Baja California, said he thinks most of the migrants streaming into Tijuana over the past couple of weeks come from Haiti, but claim they are from African countries with which Mexico lacks diplomatic relations, to avoid deportation by Mexican authorities.
He said officials are trying to help them with a place to eat and sleep while they wait to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
"We are offering people who are vulnerable, such as families with children, the opportunity to be admitted into shelters," he said.
Many of the migrants said they had no money, and were relying on the kindness of strangers for food. Tijuana business owners and other residents occasionally brought them tacos and other meals.
On Thursday morning, police officers persuaded dozens of the migrants to follow them to a grass knoll about two blocks away from the border crossing, saying they could wait more comfortably there, and possibly be taken to nearby shelters. Many of the migrants feared they would lose their place in line, but police officers told them they would actually be given priority for processing due to an agreement between Mexican and U.S. officials.
Figueroa said: "If they are admitted to shelters, we are hoping that (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) will hold their place in line. That's about as far as the agreement goes. We haven't signed an MOU or a formal agreement."
Mulamba Womo was one of the migrants who agreed to wait at the grass knoll.
He said he came from the Democratic Republic of Congo because he feared for his life after a terrorist uprising in which his uncle and several friends were killed.
“They kill many people. That’s why ... I don’t want to stay there. I get out to look for another life," he said.
He said he plans to apply for political asylum in the U.S.
In response to a request for comment, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued the following statement:
"CBP has collaborated with the Mexican authorities to improve the processing and humanitarian assistance of those individuals with no legal status to enter the U.S. This is being done to temporarily house the individuals in a more comfortable location and out of the elements.
We continue to have persons of many nationalities who arrive at the San Ysidro port of entry that don’t have the legal documents required to enter into the U.S., including an uptick in the number of Haitians arriving at San Ysidro with no status in the United States.
They continue to be processed in the order that they arrive to the port of entry. However, on a case by case basis, depending on their humanitarian needs, they may be given priority.