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Radical American Activists Flock To Migrant Caravan In Tijuana

January 16, 2019 1:34 p.m.

GUEST: Jean Guerrero, border reporter, KPBS News

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Related Story: Radical American Activists Flock To Migrant Caravan In Tijuana


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Jade Hindmon and I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. As President Trump continues his fight for a border wall. Americans from across the U.S. are flocking to the Central American migrant caravan in Tijuana. Right wing activists have marched against the migrants they're personified by a local Trump fan but left wing activists have been the most visible. PBS reporter Jeanne Guerrero has the story.

Paloma Zuniga is a U.S. and Mexican citizen known as Paloma for Trump.

They call me that all the time. They call me a racist all the time. They totally call me when did they call. They say I mean I'm against my own people.

She's at a migrant shelter in Tijuana making Facebook live videos about the caravan that she's characterized her forty nine thousand Facebook followers as invaders. One man gets angry.

We always ask everybody to do it. Everybody knows this and you chill out.

Zuniga sells make tea Juan a great again read baseball caps online and spreads xenophobia against the migrants falsely telling people a photo of a mother running from tear gas with her children was staged.

The bottom line is that each country should take care of its own people. Zuniga was part of a confrontation against the caravan in the fall.

Rocks and punches were thrown. The far right group Oath Keepers has also put out a call to action online to send militants to the border to keep the caravan out.

But the border is attracting other kinds of activists to advocate for an end to borders.

Ivan Duke is an antifascist and a social justice activist who came from Seattle with about a dozen left wing activists to offer protection and aid to the migrant caravan.

When right wing hate groups threatened tomorrow March on refugees we're gonna to do a call out to the community for people to come and stand in support of them. And again you know our intention is not to start any trouble as you want but at least to stand with those people and put our bodies in front of them if they're threatened.

Duke has participated in protests against violent far right groups like power voice and unite the right. He says things have gotten tense in Tijuana.

We've been receiving death threats on Facebook. Here's one now from Hosey Puerto out of San Diego. It says Just know that I'll be close behind your agitators and I will kill you if you get too comfortable.

Duke is friends with Brendan Tucker a cook from Canyon Lake Texas. He's been feeding migrants for several months. Tucker was at the border on New Year's Day when more than 100 migrants tried to cross illegally and were tear gassed by Border Patrol.

But we had nothing to do with helping people cross. We had nothing to do with organizing it. All we did was come up to witness document and deliver medical aid he says.

All he wants to do is keep the migrants safe and well-fed because the U.S. has contributed to unrest in Central America.

By backing military coups and I believe in cleaning up our own mess and this is a mess that we created in the first place.

Some American activists are openly encouraging migrants to jump the fence. Bam. By any means necessary is distributing fliers telling migrants to storm the border.

We spoke to the national director Shanta Driver getting across the border by all means necessary is absolutely the right thing to do. We urge and discourage people to take mass action she says it's unsafe for migrants to be in Tijuana.

Amid record violence but attorney Erica Bonito says Bam is putting lives at risk waiting in Tijuana is not the same as trying to cross a smuggling route that is controlled by organized crime.

You become much more of a target.

Needless his ban is compromising real humanitarian work. Her nonprofit I know through Largo provides pro bono legal services to migrants she says. Bam is helping Trump's narrative that the caravan is an invasion that is not solidarity.

That's exploitation got him Perez came from Nicaragua with her four children. She says the conflicting messages from American groups have been confusing. She's on a weeks long wait list to apply for asylum in the U.S..

When I was there. Sometimes I get hopeless thinking I'll say yes to the people telling me to jump but no.

What am I crazy. She says she wants to do things the legal way.

Joining me is reporter Jean Guerrero and Jean welcome.

Great to be here. So 2 1 has become a magnet for a spectrum of border activists.

How are Tijuana authorities taking this so the authorities in Tijuana have set up new security protocols at the migrant shelters so that at least at the main migrant shelter called died were a few hundred people are still staying. It used to be that you could just walk right into the migrant shelter that didn't matter if you were a journalist or an activist or whoever. For example during the first teargas incident that we saw in November most of the migrants were staying at a different shelter and people could just go right in ands and spread out these flyers and you know talk to them.

Tell us a little bit more about Paloma Zuniga Paloma for Trump is hers really a one woman organization.

Yeah I mean so her boyfriend helps her make videos sometimes but for the most part she operates her Facebook page which has more than 40000 followers completely by herself. She told me that she moved to the U.S. from Mexico when she was eleven and her mom married an American military man who had two daughters. They were of Polish descent and she says that they bullied her and because of her accent and so she she was forced to learn English very quickly. But yeah so she just became very passionate about President Trump when she when she heard about Donald Trump and you heard he was going to become president and you know she says she's not against her own people she just wants what's best for both countries and that message really appeals to a lot of people on on both sides of the border.

But it's it's also making a lot of people angry.

On the other side you have advocates who've come to two wanted to defend migrants. Are they offering any practical help to the people waiting in Tijuana.

Some activists for example in the Kevin Support Network they're bringing food and donations. They stand guard when anti-immigrant groups March outside of the shelters. Some of those same activists were there during a teargas incident on New Year's Day. And they provided Milk of Magnesia to counter the effects of the tear gas and some medical aid. So this is a group that's very loosely organized they have antifascist they have environmental and social justice activists. Some of them took part in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and Occupy Wall Street. So it's a very diverse group of people.

And the most provocative of the left wing groups you talk about is Bam. I've never actually heard of this group before. What do you know about it.

So this is a group I first found out about it when I went to the shelter that the migrants were staying in during the first teargas incident. So I went there the day of the tear gas incident and people were already they were passing around these fliers. So it's unclear whether they had actually marched in response to these fliers for that first teargas incident although it's clear that they definitely marched subsequently in response to the flyers but bam does take responsibility. They say that they helped organize all of the marches to the border.

They've done organizing across the U.S. against detention centers against the swearing in of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. So just a variety of different causes and it's unclear though how many time how much time any of their volunteers have actually spent in Mexico. Again I haven't been able to speak to any of the four between four to six people that the national chair told me were based in Tijuana or visiting Tijuana and aside for the flyers.

And that one incident with the the the the running towards the border fence has bam haven't had any real impact with the migrant community.

So the impact is they say that these two main incidents where more than 100 people stormed the border and you saw the teargas and you saw these these images that were broadcast across the country of these of these people storming the border. They say that they're responsible for those incidents and when I asked them if they were if they had any concerns about the teargas being used against these families and you know in response to their organizing they told me that that the teargas doesn't concern them that that these are people who are from violent countries that they got tear gassed all the time that it's not an issue for these people.

But you know I spoke to some of the migrants themselves and they said that that's definitely not true that they don't like the idea of getting tear gassed and that's part of the reason many people don't pay attention to these fliers because they they've seen that when people approach the border it it gets ugly.

And of course the people asking for asylum are in the middle of all this political turmoil. And you and your feature with a quote from Karen Perez waiting to request asylum from the U.S. She's in Tijuana. What are her days like as she waits and how long do you think that wait may be.

She's at the main migrant shelter about it dad with her children and she just kind of hangs out in her tent talks to other people from the caravan. The big concern for her right now is that that that shelter that main shelter is facing closure.

So within any day now it's going to be closed and the migrants are going to be evicted. Meantime she still has wait weeks of waiting to get into United States based on the waitlist that she put her name on. So she's thinking about getting a work visa from Mexican authorities so she can kind of herself and feed her kids while she is in Tijuana. But then on the other side of that there's the concern that having a work visa that could affect her eligibility for asylum in the United States which is ultimately her goal.

So it's just a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unanswered questions for.

For people like gutting I've been speaking with Kate PBS border reporter Jean Guerrero. Jean thank you. Thank you.