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Border & Immigration

Border Patrol once again puts migrants in outdoor San Ysidro camp with no bathrooms

Customs and Border Protection is once again keeping hundreds of migrants in a makeshift outdoor camp. Migrants told KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis that they are not given shelter or access to bathrooms.

Customs and Border Protection is once again holding hundreds of vulnerable migrants in a makeshift border camp without providing them access to basic services. The agency cleared a similar camp back in May after a federal complaint.

The camp is in San Ysidro, between the primary and secondary border walls. Migrants there sleep outside with little protection from the elements. There are no bathrooms, leaving men, women and children to relieve themselves in nearby bushes.

“The cold and mosquitos kept us up all night,” said Maria, a Mexican asylum seeker who asked KPBS not to use her last name.


Maria had been in the camp for two days. She was tired, hungry, and struggling to keep her one-year-old son from crying.

Customs and Border Patrol personnel give the migrants water bottles, cheese and crackers. Everything else comes from volunteers in San Diego and Tijuana, according to several migrants interviewed by KPBS.

Volunteers provided fruits, blankets, medicine, diapers, menstrual pads and generators to charge people’s phones.

“We are having a very unusual, warm summer in San Diego, and nighttime gets very cold,” said Adriana Jasso with the nonprofit American Friends Service Committee. “Throughout the day they are at the mercy of the elements.”

Jasso and other volunteers started visiting the camp last week. They have identified migrants from Cameroon, Morocco, Vietnam, China, Jamaica, Brazil, Peru and Afghanistan.


The lack of bathroom facilities is particularly appalling, Jasso said.

“That is a fundamental, basic need,” she said.

Maria said women go to the bathroom in groups for protection. They use pieces of cardboard as privacy screens and use donated wet wipes for toilet paper.

Customs and Border Protection did not respond to questions from KPBS.

Back in May, CBP personnel put thousands of migrants in a makeshift camp in the same location in the days leading up to the end of pandemic-era border restrictions. At its peak, more than 400 migrants lived in the camp at one time.

Several individuals Hundreds of vulnerable migrants are living in a makeshift border camp without access to basic services. Sept. 12, 2023.
Carlos Castillo
Hundreds of vulnerable migrants are living in a makeshift border camp without access to basic services. Sept. 12, 2023.

In a letter, Congressional Democrats expressed “grave concern” over the controversial practice. The Homeland Security Committee is currently investigating CBP.

In response to that investigation, CBP denied holding migrants in custody between the two border fences, despite dozens of news articles, photographs, videos and eyewitness accounts.

CBP officials wrote in a letter to Congress, “The individuals in question had not made contact with U.S. Border Patrol personnel and were not constrained from further movement. At the time of this incident, the USBP San Diego Sector facilities were experiencing capacity issues and some transportation challenges which have since been remedied.”

Migrants interviewed in the camp Tuesday told KPBS that they were not free to leave the camp whenever they wished. All of them had wristbands given to them by CBP personnel. Many of the people in the camp want to pursue asylum claims in the United States.

Around 11 a.m. Tuesday, CBP personnel arrived with vans and relocated some of the migrants. They prioritized families with small children, leaving the vast majority of people outside.

Volunteers said people spend anywhere between 24 and 36 hours in the camp before CBP personnel transport them to other facilities.

Discrimination against indigenous people is rampant back home, said Nancy, an indigenous woman from Ecuador who asked that KPBS withhold her full name.

“There is a lot of racism toward us,” she said.

It took Nancy and her husband two months to reach the U.S. border.

“I am excited to be here,” she said. “But also, very sad and tired. We have been on the road for two months and still haven’t reached our destination. But I trust in God.”

Volunteers from various mutual aid groups have been on site since Sept. 6. They planned to be there every day until the camp is cleared, Jasso said.

“If people are moved by the images and the faces that we have been seeing for the last week or so, they are free to come and see for themselves,” she said.

Water, blankets and children's clothes are all in high demand. Volunteers are also seeking oranges and apples because they can easily be passed through gaps in the border wall, Jasso said.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.