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More Caravan Migrants Arrive In Tijuana, Brace For Long Stay

A group of migrants rests in Playas de Tijuana, Tijuana, Nov. 14, 2018.
Jean Guerrero
A group of migrants rests in Playas de Tijuana, Tijuana, Nov. 14, 2018.
Migrants Fill Tijuana Shelters, More On Way To US Border
Migrants Fill Tijuana Shelters, More On Way To US Border GUEST: Jean Guerrero, border reporter, KPBS News

Baja California officials are scrambling to find shelter and provisions for members of the Central American caravan. Now in Tijuana and some residents in Tijuana are upset about the new arrivals. KPBS is Jade Hindmon spoke with PBS border reporter Jean Guerrero who is in Tijuana. Jean you reported about witnessing migrants from Honduras crossing the border illegally and turning themselves in. Tell us more about what you saw. So yesterday I actually saw two women and a child right after they had somehow managed to get across the border. At first I was told that they jumped over that I was so that they we do a gap in the fencing. So I'm not sure exactly how they got across but I was able to get some video of them right as they were. Right. Right as they were after they had crossed the fence and they just walked straight into a crowd of Border Patrol officers because there's so many Border Patrol officers who are who are monitoring the fence on the north side. They didn't try to run. They they just walked straight out to the border patrol officers and were immediately apprehended. And what the new executive order in place barring people who crossed the southern border illegally from seeking asylum. What can you tell us about what might happen to those migrants? So it's looking like they're going to be repaid what they call repatriated. So I followed up with Border Patrol about these women to find out exactly what is happening to them. Most likely they're being processed to be removed because normally what happens is if someone is detained after crossing the border illegally they say that they want asylum there normally transcript Immigration Customs Enforcement. But because of the president's order it's looking like if if they asked for asylum after having come in this way they won't be getting it. And tell us about some of the migrants you've spoken to during your reporting who are they and why do they want to come to the U.S. so most of the people I've spoken to are people who want to ask for asylum in the United States legally. That means they're willing to wait as long as it takes to apply at the port of entry which is currently seeing a backlog of. Because of how many people have been have been coming already for asylum there. There are people who are fleeing violent people who are fleeing extreme poverty. Many of them talk about the death threat. They're having an uncle or or a sister who died who was killed by one of the local games. They talk about the ones who are from Honduras. Talk about political repression. After the recent presidential election they say that anyone who didn't support says the winner is being targeted by the by the gangs who are working with the government. So there is a lot of that a lot of fears for their lives. But I also talked to some people. I was surprised who told me they just they just want a job in the United States because there's no jobs in their home countries and they don't seem to understand it that doesn't that that's that that's not asylum. There's a lot of I think a lot of confusion as well within the caravan of about what it means to qualify for asylum. And there are people who are just jumping the fence to get across them legally because they think that they're there they're most likely option of getting in and what have Mexican authorities been doing to prepare for the influx of migrants. So they Mexico has had shelters that are run migrant mothers that are run by nonprofit by religious organizations. But those who are mostly full already because of the massive influx of people fleeing violence within Mexico to people fleeing violence in southern Mexican states like Guerrero and beachwear. So the city just opened up last night this big sports facility that has a capacity for up to 2000 people. There is a basketball court. There's a few outdoor areas playgrounds and they're receiving people. So far they've got about 250 people who arrived last night. I'm actually on the beach right now where a lot of people spent the night and a lot of people are being transported over that sports facility from from the beach. And there was a protest yesterday in place de Tijuana. What is the sentiment in Tijuana towards the Central American migrants. Yes I was just talking to one of the residents who witnessed these violent confrontations between residents of Tijuana and the migrant caravan and their supporters and basically what appears to have happened is the people who live in Tijuana who live in like as if one are upset at the caravan being here they don't want them here. They were coming out here and shouting out and telling them that they are wanted they should go home that they're creating a mess that they're an eyesore. So a lot of you know phobia. Also a lot of fears people saying that they don't feel safe with the caravan around and that is created eventually a confrontation between activists who were trying to protect the families that were trying to sweep from the mob of about 50 or 60 Tijuana residents who didn't want them here. Right. Border reporter Jean Guerrero thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for having me.

More buses of exhausted people in a caravan of Central American asylum seekers reached the U.S. border Thursday as the city of Tijuana converted a municipal gymnasium into a temporary shelter and the migrants came to grips with the reality that they will be on the Mexican side of the frontier for an extended stay.

With U.S. border inspectors at the main crossing into San Diego processing only about 100 asylum claims a day, it could take weeks if not months to process the thousands in the caravan that departed from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, more than a month ago.

Tijuana's robust network of shelters was already stretched to the limit, having squeezed in double their capacity or more as families slept on the floor on mats, forcing the city to open the gymnasium for up to 360 people on Wednesday. A gated outdoor courtyard can accommodate hundreds more.

Video: More Caravan Migrants Arrive In Tijuana, Brace For Long Stay

The city's thriving factories are always looking for workers, and several thousand Haitian migrants who were turned away at the U.S. border have found jobs and settled here in the last two years, but the prospect of thousands more destitute Central Americans has posed new challenges.

Delia Avila, director of Tijuana's family services department, who is helping spearhead the city's response, said migrants who can arrange legal status in Mexico are welcome to stay.

"Tijuana is a land of migrants. Tijuana is a land that has known what it is to embrace thousands of co-nationals and also people from other countries," Avila said.

Mexican law enforcement was out in force in a city that is suffering an all-time-high homicide rate. A group of about 50 migrants, mostly women and children, walked through downtown streets Thursday from the city shelter to a breakfast hall under police escort.

As buses from western and central Mexico trickled in overnight and into the morning, families camped inside the bus terminal and waited for word on where they could find a safe place to sleep. One shelter designed for 45 women and children was housing 100; another designed for 100 had nearly 200.

A National Migration Institute officer takes migrants to different shelters across Tijuana, Nov. 15, 2018.
Jean Guerrero
A National Migration Institute officer takes migrants to different shelters across Tijuana, Nov. 15, 2018.

RELATED: Migrant Caravan Groups Arrive By Hundreds At US Border

Many endured the evening chill to sleep at an oceanfront park with a view of San Diego office towers and heavily armed U.S. Border Patrol agents on the other side of a steel-bollard fence.

Oscar Zapata, 31, reached the Tijuana bus station at 2 a.m. from Guadalajara with his wife and their three children, ages 4, 5 and 12, and headed to the breakfast hall, where migrants were served free beef and potatoes.

Back home in La Ceiba, Honduras, he had been selling pirated CDs and DVDs in the street when two gangs demanded "protection" money; he had already seen a colleague gunned down on a street corner because he couldn't pay. He said gangs called him and his wife on their cellphones and showed up at their house, threatening to kidnap his daughter and force her into prostitution if he didn't pay.

When he heard about the caravan on the TV news last month, he didn't think twice.

"It was the opportunity to get out," Zapata said, waiting in line for breakfast.

Zapata said he hopes to join a brother in Los Angeles but has not yet decided on his next move. Like many others, he planned to wait in Tijuana for others in the caravan to arrive and gather more information before seeking asylum in the United States.

Byron Jose Blandino, a 27-year-old bricklayer from Nicaragua who slept in the converted gymnasium, said he wanted to request asylum but not until he could speak with someone well-versed in U.S. law and asylum procedures.

"The first thing is to wait," Blandino said. "I do not want to break the laws of any country. If I could enter in a peaceful manner, that would be good.

To claim asylum in San Diego, migrants enter their names in a tattered notebook held together by duct tape and managed by the migrants in a plaza outside the entry to the main border crossing.

On Thursday, migrants who registered six weeks ago were getting their names called. The waiting list has grown to more than 3,000 names and stands to become much longer with the caravans.

Tijuana officials said there were about 800 migrants from the caravan in the city Wednesday. The latest arrivals appeared to push the total above 1,000.

The migrants have met some resistance from local residents, about 100 of whom confronted a similar-size group of Central Americans who were camped out by the U.S. border fence Wednesday night.

"You're not welcome" and "Get out!" the locals said, marching up to the group.

Police kept the two sides apart.

Vladimir Cruz, a migrant from El Salvador, shook his head and said: "These people are the racists, because 95 percent of people here support us."

"It is just this little group. ... They are uncomfortable because we're here," Cruz said.

Playas de Tijuana, as the area is known, is an upper-middle-class enclave, and residents appeared worried about crime and sanitation. One protester shouted, "This isn't about discrimination, it is about safety!"

There are real questions about how the city of more than 1.6 million will manage to handle the migrant caravans working their way through Mexico, which may total 10,000 people in all.

"No city in the world is prepared to receive this number of migrants," said Tijuana social development director Mario Osuna, adding that the city hopes Mexico's federal government "will start legalizing these people immediately" so they can get jobs and earn a living.

Dozens of gay and transgender migrants in the caravan were already lining up Thursday to submit asylum claims, though it was unclear how soon they would be able to do so.

The caravan has fragmented somewhat in recent days in a final push to the border, with some migrants moving rapidly in buses and others falling behind.

On Thursday, hundreds were stranded for most of the day at a gas station in Navojoa, some 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) from Tijuana.

"We were dropped here at midnight ... in the middle of nowhere, where supposedly some buses were going to come pick us up, but nothing," Alejandra Grisel Rodriguez of Honduras told The Associated Press by phone. "We are without water, without food."

After about 12 hours seven buses began arriving to collect the migrants, Rodriguez said, but they quickly filled up.

"We would need at least 40 or 50," she said.

Jesus Edmundo Valdez, coordinator of firefighters and civil defense in Navojoa, said Wednesday that authorities were providing food, water and medical attention to migrants there. His phone rang unanswered Thursday.

Mexico has offered refuge, asylum and work visas to the migrants, and its government said this week that 2,697 temporary visas had been issued to individuals and families to cover them during the 45-day application process for more permanent status. Some 533 migrants had requested a voluntary return to their countries, the government said.