Hundreds living in makeshift migrant camp at border before Title 42 ends
In the days before the U.S. plans to open its doors to asylum seekers again, there have been thousands of migrants coming to the border and no clear plan for processing them all.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has created a makeshift migrant camp in San Ysidro between the primary and secondary border wall. This week, there are more than 400 men, women and children living in the camp, and dozens more arriving in the days leading up to the end of Title 42.
The pandemic-era restrictions that allowed border officials to turn asylum seekers and other migrants away are set to expire at 9 p.m. Thursday.
People in the camp sleep outside, with no protection from the elements. The only food they receive from CBP are three bottles of water and two granola bars each day, according to interviews with several migrants.
There are also several toddlers and pregnant women living in the makeshift camp.
Advocates called the conditions “absolutely horrendous.”
“The U.S. is not welcoming people with dignity,” said Pedro Rios, an activist with American Friends Service Committee. “It is welcoming people with complete disrespect, and this is shameful.”
Rios and volunteers have been taking food and supplies to the camp every day. He also carries a bottle of Ibuprofen with him for migrants who complain of muscle aches and headaches.
“They need medical attention,” Rios said.
San Ysidro’s makeshift camp also only has a handful of portable toilets for 400 people, and no trash service.
Most of the border along San Diego County has two border walls, known as the primary and secondary fences. The space between them is U.S. soil, not open to the public, and managed almost exclusively by CBP.
All of the migrants who spoke to KPBS said they crossed into the U.S. along other parts of the border and were brought to the space between the fences by CBP. Several said they walked around the border wall near Otay Mesa and turning themselves over to Border Patrol agents.
Everyone was given wristbands indicating what date they entered the camp. Those who have been there the longest are taken to another facility by CBP.
Volunteers described the camp as a “united nations” because of how many countries were represented.
KPBS spoke with migrants from Turkey, Colombia, Honduras, Vietnam, Haiti and Ecuador. Volunteers said there were also migrants from Georgia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Jamaica and Peru.
Besides food, water and clothes, migrants are in desperate need of cell phone chargers. One Vietnamese asylum seeker offered reporters $50 to buy her a cable to charge her phone. She had not been able to communicate with her family since CBP agents brought her to the camp on Monday.
Alonso Alegre and his family were brought to the camp Monday night. The Colombian family is seeking asylum in the United States because criminals and local police officers tried to kidnap and extort Alegre, who owns a small business.
“We sleep on the floor, it’s very cold, it rained last night,” he said. “Things are very complicated.”
Apart from the two granola bars CBP gives the migrants each day, volunteers bring apples, sandwiches and snacks for kids. Some volunteers have also brought mobile phone charging stations.
Alegre’s 7-year-old son is struggling to understand why his family is in this situation.
“My son asked me, ‘Dad, why did you want to come to the U.S. to live like a bum when we were living well in Colombia?’ I couldn’t explain to him why we are here. I started crying,” he said.
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Members of Congress, including Congressman Juan Vargas (D-San Diego), sent a letter to Customs and Border Protection saying they are “appalled by the mistreatment of any individual seeking asylum.”
This type of detention appears to violate CBP’s own Short-Term Detention Standards, which state, “CBP holds all detainees in rooms that are safe, secure, and clean. Detainees identified as requiring medical attention are provided medical care. CBP ensures basic necessities, such as food, snacks, drinking water, properly equipped restrooms, and hygiene supplies are also available.”
CBP also has policies against keeping children detained longer than 72 hours. The agency did not respond to questions about the camp.
Title 42 is set to end Thursday, and a large wave of migrants are expected to flood the border seeking asylum. In other news, families who have lost loved ones gathered in Mission Valley for Fentanyl Awareness Day Tuesday. Plus, the child care industry is struggling with not having enough staff.
As the controversial pandemic-era border policy comes to an end, a number of questions remain about how the asylum process will be impacted.