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Border & Immigration

San Ysidro migrant shelter in danger of closing

Over the last few weeks, Customs and Border Protection has dropped off 10,000 migrants in the streets of San Diego. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis says local immigrant aid organizations helping the migrants are running out of money.

Over the last few weeks, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has dropped off more than 10,000 asylum seekers and other migrants in the streets of San Diego, according to immigrant rights activists.

In response to these drop-offs, the Casa Familiar nonprofit set up a makeshift aid center at San Ysidro Community Park. At the center, volunteers welcome migrants into the country by giving them food, water, clothes, medical care and transportation.

But it’s now at risk of shutting down due to lack of funding.

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“These are their first moments in the United States,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders. “For San Diego, it’s important that they remember these moments, who gave them a helping hand and made sure that they were safe.”

Most of the migrants are pursuing asylum claims in the United States and will only stay in San Diego for a short time. They have friends or relatives in other parts of the country, Toczylowski said.

Volunteers arrange a bus to take them to San Diego International Airport.

Casa Familiar is the nonprofit providing space for the aid center. Immigrant Defenders, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Al Otro Lado and other mutual aid organizations provide additional services.

A spokesperson for Casa Familiar told KPBS that the organization’s senior staff are trying to secure more funding.

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Part of the problem, according to volunteers, is lack of support from all levels of government.

“Nonprofits cannot do it alone,” Toczylowski said. “Not only do we need additional resources, but those resources have to come in the form of a government-run welcome center that will make sure people are taken care of.”

Migrants sitting at a picnic table at the San Ysidro Community Park where the nonprofit organization Casa Familiar is running a makeshift aid center, Oct. 2, 2023.
Matthew Bowler
/
KPBS
Migrants sitting at a picnic table at the San Ysidro Community Park where the nonprofit organization Casa Familiar is running a makeshift aid center, Oct. 2, 2023.

Before the center opened, volunteers would help migrants in transit centers throughout San Diego, which is where CBP officials often dropped them off. Casa Familiar has a kitchen, wi-fi, restrooms and space for tents and tables — all luxuries unavailable at transit centers.

Treacherous journeys

Migrants at the center told harrowing stories of their journey to the United States. Among them was Jose Gegorio Coraspe who spoke of the rampant extortion by criminal gangs in Mexico.

“You either give them the money or they kill us,” he said in Spanish. “Horrible, it was a life and death situation.”

Coraspe, who is from Venezuela, fled home because of the country’s violence and economic decline. He traveled through 10 countries before reaching Mexico in May and finally entered the United States on Sunday.

He plans to reunite with family in Miami and pursue an asylum claim in immigration court.

However, just because Coraspe claims asylum, there is no guarantee an immigration judge will accept it. The asylum denial rate in U.S. immigration courts is 51% so far this fiscal year, according to data from the federal government.

“I want a future for my family,” Coraspe said. “For my daughter who I love so much, and my father who is in poor health.”

Migrants sitting under a canopy with information for Chinese speakers at the San Ysidro Community Park, where the nonprofit organization Casa Familiar is running a makeshift aid center, Oct. 2, 2023.
Matthew Bowler
/
KPBS
Migrants sitting under a canopy with information for Chinese speakers at the San Ysidro Community Park, where the nonprofit organization Casa Familiar is running a makeshift aid center, Oct. 2, 2023.

Injuries spike

This year has been particularly dangerous for migrants trying to cross the border in San Diego. Injuries from falling off the 30-foot border wall continue to be an issue, according to Dr. Alexander Tenorio at UC San Diego.

“We’re on pace currently to see a border trauma admission from (falling) from the border at least once a day,” he said.

The hospital is on pace to receive more than 360 border patients this year, which would be a new record, he added.

Border Patrol agents in San Diego have struggled to deal with increased illegal migration in recent weeks. Their solution thus far has been to set up makeshift migrant camps outside in San Ysidro and Jacumba.

Immigrant rights activists have criticized the camps as inhumane places where migrants suffer without enough food, water or protection from the elements.

U.S. and international law give people in the country a right to pursue asylum claims, even if they entered the country illegally, said Pedro Rios, an activist with American Friendship Service Committee.

“The U.S. has the responsibility to respond to their asylum claims,” he said. “They are fleeing dangerous situations and untold violence.”

In January, the Biden administration set up a mobile phone app for asylum seekers to set up appointments to enter the United States. The app, CBP One, is meant to prevent the kind of chaos unfolding in San Diego.

However, the app is impractical for vulnerable migrants, Rios said.

People have told him they don’t have enough money to wait the month or two it takes to secure an appointment. Others have been trying to secure an appointment for three months and cross illegally because they feel as if there are no other options, he said.

San Ysidro migrant shelter in danger of closing