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Tijuana Plaza Becomes Haven For Deported Migrants

Deportee Squatters' Camp

Photo by Jill Replogle

Javier Reyes, from Angels Without Borders, takes down the name of a young Guatemalan man looking for a spot in a tent.

Deported migrants have occupied a plaza in downtown Tijuana since early August, looking for a place to sleep and protesting what they say is unfair treatment of deportees.

— It looks a bit like the Occupy Wall Street camp in New York City, except more organized. Dozens of mostly identical pup tents are lined up in neat rows around Tijuana’s Plaza Constitución, just a few blocks from the city’s central tourist district.

In early August, Tijuana police cleared out the canal that borders San Diego. They evicted hundreds of migrants, deported from the U.S., who had camped there. They ended up here, and since then the squatter’s camp in the Tijuana plaza has become a virtual village.

More than 600 migrants who’ve been deported from the U.S. are now living in this part-protest camp, part-homeless shelter. A group of deportees from Mexicali who call themselves Ángeles Sin Fronteras, or Angels Without Borders, helped set up the camp.

They purchased the tents, and now they’re running the place.

This morning, Javier Reyes, who used to work in Bakersfield, is manning the intake table. He tells a young man from Guatemala to come back in the evening to claim a spot in a tent.

“Between 14 and 16 deportees show up every day,” Reyes said.

Camp leaders organize cleaning crews and security details. But they admit the camp has its problems — mostly fights and some drug use.

In any case, they don’t plan on staying here indefinitely. They have a bigger goal.

“A hotel,” Reyes said. “A shelter for a lot of migrants, not just 20 or 30.” That’s the capacity of most shelters in town.

Mexicali has such a place: an abandoned hotel that a local philanthropist rented a few years back and then invited deportees to occupy.

The Tijuana squatters don’t expect authorities will let them camp in the plaza much longer. Plus, the rainy season is coming, and they’ll need sturdier lodging soon.


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