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Mothers In Migrant Caravan Fear Unruly Men Will Ruin Chance At Asylum

Central Americans participate in street mass in Tijuana, Nov. 23, 2018.

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Above: Central Americans participate in street mass in Tijuana, Nov. 23, 2018.

There were men blowing kisses at reporters outside of their makeshift migrant shelter in Tijuana.

There were men shouting at U.S. Border Patrol through the steel bars of the U.S.-Mexico border fence: "We're not criminals! Let us in!"

There were men getting drunk in the Playas de Tijuana neighborhood.

As thousands of Central Americans flood the streets of Tijuana, waiting for a chance to ask for asylum in the U.S., many mothers fear certain unruly men in their midst could hurt everyone's chances by giving the exodus a bad reputation.

Video by Katie Schoolov

Marco Antonio Rivera, a 31-year-old Honduran man, painted the words "Hate Takes Us Nowhere" on a painting of the U.S. flag, while using swear words to describe President Donald Trump and his "cradle of gold."

"Don't say that in front of the cameras!" one Honduran woman told him. She asked not to be named for fear of hurting her asylum case. She told KPBS that "there are crazy people" in the caravan who are worrying mothers like her.

During an impromptu street mass near a Tijuana sports facility that is housing more than 4,700 migrants — 2,965 men, 904 women, 418 boys and 444 girls, according to city officials — members of the exodus gathered around a car parked in the middle of the street a block away with speakers blaring hymns. A pastor stood on the roof of the car, reading scripture.

One mother, Maria Edwina Perez, rocked back and forth as she listened, tears running down her cheeks. She kissed and cradled her three-year-old son, Jesus, while singing along and praying to God to convince Trump to open the doors to the U.S. for women and children.

“If he doesn't want the men to enter, he should let the women enter. We come to work, not to create disorder. I am a daughter of God," she said. "I am a peaceful woman with patience."

Perez said some ill-behaved men in the exodus are giving all of the asylum-seekers a bad reputation by acting entitled and "moronic," and that she fears for her son's life. She said that there isn't enough food and drink at the shelters and that another mother gave her a pair of shoes to sell to buy breakfast for her son.

She said she fled Honduras after an uncle was killed because she was worried that the gangs would kill her, too. She told KPBS she had a dream in which children like hers were allowed to flood into the U.S.

"I don't know how many kids are among us," she prayed aloud. "But I know that you, God, are going to feed each one of them. We are here because of them."

For now, members of the caravan must rely on the kindness of strangers like Jorge Guillermo Santos Rios, the Tijuana resident who brought scripture. After the impromptu street mass, he pulled large pots of bread and coffee out of his car.

"If Jesus were here, alive like us, he'd do this — he'd give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to those without clothes," he said.

Santos condemned other Tijuana residents who have verbally and physically attacked members of the caravan.

"There are people who don't know the love of God," he said.

While pouring coffee into styrofoam cups for the migrants, Santos yelled at some men who were cutting in line to get ahead of the women and children.

"Get in line!" he shouted. "We are doing this in an orderly way."

As Tijuana struggles to cope with thousands of Central American arrivals, mothers in the exodus fear some unruly men in their midst could ruin their opportunities to enter the U.S.

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