Mexican-American Woman Pushes Trump Agenda In Tijuana
Paloma Zuniga, a dual U.S. and Mexican citizen, is an activist who goes by “Paloma for Trump."
She has more than 47,000 followers on Facebook, and has been selling “Make Tijuana Great Again” red baseball caps since an exodus of Central Americans began to arrive in the border town.
“I’m probably the most Mexican Trump supporter you will ever find," she told KPBS.
Her cross-border lifestyle — driving between San Diego and Tijuana, speaking fluent English and Spanish — makes her superlative claim questionable. Still, Zuniga has become the face of the Mexican resistance to the Central American migrants in Tijuana.
She's been traveling to the shelters where the migrants are staying, and making Facebook Live videos accusing them of creating "chaos" and "madness." She also accuses liberals of misleading the migrants into making the dangerous journey from Central America to the U.S. Critics accuse Zuniga of spreading xenophobia and conspiracy theories.
About 3,000 migrants from the largely Honduran exodus remain in Tijuana. Hundreds must wait in Mexico while their asylum proceedings unfold in the U.S., according to a new agreement between the two countries.
This week, about 200 who had set up camp near downtown were moved to a shelter called Barretal in Tijuana’s poor, eastern outskirts where most of the migrants had already been taken. Nearly all of the migrants are there now, where Zuniga said they're less likely to trigger resentment because they're far from the city center.
Zuniga was part of a confrontation with the caravan that turned violent a few weeks ago when they were camping out in Playas de Tijuana, a middle-class neighborhood on the beach. She admits that the migrants' opponents could have approached them differently.
“At the time we weren’t familiar with these people now we’re more familiar with them and realizing maybe not all of them are criminals," she said.
She said she has compassion for the migrants, and that she just wants people to follow the law. She didn’t like that some of the migrants pushed past police barricades to get into Mexico.
“I’m a nationalist just like President Trump and I’m a firm believer in taking care of our people first. So that’s been my message in Tijuana that we should take care of our Mexicans before we take care of other people," she said.
Zuniga has been accused of harassing migrants like Maria Lila Meza Castro and her five children, who appeared in a Reuters photograph of a tear gas incident at the border that Zuniga falsely claimed had been staged.
Earlier this week, two members of Congress and migrant advocacy groups escorted them to the port of entry so that they could bypass a long wait list for asylum, citing "harassment from alt-right media personality Paloma Zuniga."
"She was stalking her," said Anna Joseph, an attorney with Mexico's Institute for Women In Migration, adding that advocates transferred Meza and her children to a secret location in Playas de Tijuana so that they could avoid this alleged harassment.
Zuniga categorically denies those claims, calling them "fake news" and saying that she had a good rapport with Meza and her family, bringing them donations.
Meza, who is in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Meanwhile, countless other Tijuana residents, like Jorge Santos, have been welcoming the migrants all along, bringing them food and clothing. He said people who oppose them don’t know the love of God.
“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.