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Tension At Migrant Caravan Camp After Mexico Border Clash

Migrants rest at the Tijuana sports facility Benito Juarez, which has been turned into a makeshift shelter, Nov. 27, 2018.
Jean Guerrero
Migrants rest at the Tijuana sports facility Benito Juarez, which has been turned into a makeshift shelter, Nov. 27, 2018.
Caravan Migrants Explore Options After Tijuana Border Clash
Caravan Migrants Explore Options After Tijuana Border Clash GUEST:Jean Guerrero, border reporter, KPBS News

Migrants in Tijuana are still trying to assess where they stand now after Sunday's clash with Mexican police and U.S. Border Patrol. The Mexican government says more than 100 people are being deported because of the rush to the border. And reports say many more are considering going back home or staying in Mexico. Meanwhile the struggle of daily life goes on for the migrants in Tijuana. Joining me is K.P. vs border reporter Jane Guerrero. And Jeanne welcome. Thanks worryin. What's the mood among migrants after the clash on Sunday. There's a lot of fear right now in the migrant camp. Every single conversation that I had with migrants over the past couple of days has has revolved around fears related to misinformation and false rumors that have been spreading ever since the violent clash at the border. Everybody keeps talking about this child who died during the clash which is false. A lot of women who say that they're planning to go back. Men as well but mostly women who say that they fear for their children. They fear that their children will will be killed if they try to cross into the U.S. because the U.S. is using violent force against them. So there's a booth that has been set up right outside the camp by the International Organization for Migration. And as of yesterday afternoon already 70 people had signed up to go back to Central America because of these fears revolving around a dead child who never died as well as fears about cartels of an alleged attack by the cartel that is supposedly being planned for the camp that's also false. The state those do apre in Tijuana. It's just amazing how misinformation and false rumors are spreading like wildfire in this community in this cramped migrant camp because of the close quarters. There was also misinformation and rumors that actually sort of started the caravan or the hopes of the people in the caravan. Tell us about that. Yeah so one thing that struck me is is people are surprised by how difficult it is to get into the United States. Partly that's because it has become more difficult than in the past. It used to be that you could ask for asylum and you would be processed immediately. Have your claims assessed. But now they face wait times of weeks sometimes months. But part of it it appears to have been rumors as well. People tell me that they were hearing on TV on social media through word of mouth that the American Dream was available to them and that they all they had to do to get that American dream was to start walking north with this massive group that just kept growing and growing and growing. And people didn't realize that the American dream was not going to be easily accessible to them. And I just found it really remarkable because the American dream was something that was very popular among migrants for decades. But over the past couple of decades you have sort of stopped talking about that because it has become more difficult to get into the United States. People talk about leaving desperate conditions asylum. But there's a surprising number of people in the caravan who tell me that they came for economic reasons for jobs and they didn't realize it was going to be so difficult to get in. How are these thousands of people getting through the day. I mean are there support services available. Yeah so the city is providing health services and medicines and the Red Cross is there as well. Religious organizations that have set up booths outside to take lice out of people. There is an outbreak of lice and people bringing food again nonprofits and religious organizations but also some food being provided by the Mexican marines. So it's just this conglomeration of aid that is being provided and you see these massive long long lines outside of the camp. But even so even with all this help I walk around the camp and talk to children and they tell me that they're hungry and so it's apparent that even with all the help that they're getting. Tijuana is overwhelmed. They've never seen so many homeless migrants on the streets and it's very unclear what's going to happen with the population. Aside from many of them going home is there any hope this situation could improve when Mexico's new president is sworn in this weekend. We have no idea right now because President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has he fought his entire campaign under the idea that he was the champion of the poor that he was not going to do what he calls the dirty work of the of the United States when it comes to suppressing migration and asylum. But at the same time you see his administration now engaged in talks with the Trump administration about potentially keeping asylum seekers in Mexico while their claims are processed in the United States. It's very unclear what that would look like because right now as a side Tijuana and other border towns are very overwhelmed with strained resources. So it's unclear how Mexico is going to provide a space for people to wait because they're already having problems with that. I've been speaking with KPBS border reporter Jean Guerrero. Jeanne thank you. Thank you. And you're listening to KPBS midday edition.

Tension continued Tuesday as residents in the Mexican border city of Tijuana closed down a school next to a sports complex where more than 5,000 Central American migrants have been camped out for two weeks.

The move by the parent's association of the elementary school came after U.S. border agents fired tear gas into Mexico to turn back a group of migrants who had breached the border over the weekend. The incident prompted Mexican authorities to step up the police presence around the shelter.

Citing fears for their children's safety, the parents bought their own lock and chain and closed the school's gates. A sign on the gate said the school would remain closed until further notice.

RELATED: Border Clash Leaves Caravan Migrants Dejected, Worried

Carmen Rodriguez said parents had been calling for authorities to do something since the migrants arrived, adding her 9-year-old daughter won't be returning to classes until they are gone.

"We are asking that they be relocated," Rodriguez said, noting some migrants had approached the school grounds to ask children for money, to use the school's bathrooms and that some smoked marijuana around its perimeter walls.

She said the parents worry about the anti-migrant protesters approaching the sports complex again, as they did last week. "If they come here and there is a confrontation, we will be caught in the middle," she said.

The migrants themselves were urgently exploring their options amid a growing feeling that they had little hope of making successful asylum bids in the United States or of crossing the border illegally.

Most were dispirited after the U.S. agents fired tear gas on the group of migrants trying to cross into the U.S. on Sunday. They saw the clash and official response as hurting their chances of reaching the U.S.

Migrant children rest at the Tijuana sports facility Benito Juarez, Nov. 27, 2018.
Jean Guerrero
Migrant children rest at the Tijuana sports facility Benito Juarez, Nov. 27, 2018.

There was a steady line Tuesday outside a tent housing the International Organization for Migration, where officials were offering assistance to those who wanted to return to their home countries.

Officials also reported more interest from migrants wanting to start the process of staying in Mexico. A job fair matching migrants with openings in Baja California saw a growing number of inquiries.

"What happened yesterday harms all of us," Oscar Leonel Mina, a 22-year-old father from San Salvador, El Salvador, said of Sunday's border clash.

Mina, his wife and their toddler daughter avoided the protest and were glad they did after hearing others recount what unfolded, he said, sitting outside his family's tent at the Tijuana sports complex and using a toothbrush to clean the fine dust that coats everything off his sneakers.

At the tent next door, 23-year-old Brandon Castillo of Santa Rosa, Guatemala, chimed in. "They say it was the whole caravan, but it wasn't the whole caravan," she said.

The events made Mina rethink his family's plan of making it to the U.S. He says he's heard people talk of Rosarito, a beach town popular with U.S. tourists about a 40-minute drive south of Tijuana.

There "you can earn money and live well" if you're willing to work, he said. He set a goal of trying to move his family out of the sports stadium in another week.

Mexican security forces stepped up their presence at the complex where thousands from the migrant caravan have been sheltered, apparently seeking to avoid a repeat of Sunday's ugly scene.

Tijuana public safety secretary Marco Antonio Sotomayor Amezcua told a news conference that Mexican police would be prudent in their use of force, but "we have to guard at all cost that the border posts are not closed again."

Sotomayor said he hopes migrants who had thought of entering the U.S. illegally learned from Sunday's events that that won't be possible.

Migrants hoping to apply for asylum in the United States must put their names on a waiting list that already had some 3,000 people on it before the caravan arrived in Tijuana. With U.S. officials processing fewer than 100 claims a day, the wait time for the recent arrivals stands to take months.

RELATED: Trump Strongly Defends Use Of Tear Gas On Caravan Migrants

That has instilled a sense of desperation among many after their grueling trek from Central America. Sunday's incident began after hundreds marched to the border to try to call attention to their plight. Some attempted to get through fencing and wire separating the countries, prompting the volleys of stinging gas.

Cindy Martinez of San Vicente, El Salvador, said she had been about to cross the concertina wire to the U.S. side when the tear gas was launched. She estimated about 20 people had already passed in front of her, and parents begged agents not to unleash the gas because there were young children present.

"I see it as impossible for them to want to give us asylum," she said. "Because of the words that President Donald Trump has said, I think this is impossible."

Martinez, 28, said she was now considering getting work in Tijuana.

Mexico's National Migration Institute reported that 98 migrants were being deported after trying to breach the U.S. border. The country's Interior Department said about 500 people attempted to rush the border, while U.S. authorities put the number at 1,000.