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Migrants From Cameroon Protest Immigration Process In Tijuana

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Over a hundred asylum-seekers from Cameroon blocked the path of Mexican immigration vans Tuesday morning in Tijuana in protest of what they believe to be corruption by Mexican immigration officials.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 For most of the morning. The entrance at the border were vans carrying migrants in and out of the US from Mexico has been blocked in traffic at a halt. It was blocked by asylum seekers from Cameroon who say for months they'd been waiting for asylum in Mexico, but have been ignored as Mexican immigration officials took bribes to give up spots on the list. KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Adler has been there at the border and joined us via Skype with more Max. Welcome. Hi. So Max described a scene right now. What are you seeing?

Speaker 2: 00:33 So right now there is a group of Cameroonians who have been camped out since the morning. Uh, they have become frustrated and disgruntled over the past two months, um, where basically they kept being denied entrance into the u s which is the only way they can claim asylum. Uh, the formal way, they put their name on this thing called the list, which is unofficially kept by Mexican integration and a have felt that their number has been called but they're not being led in a, this is a lied to allegations on by them that Mexican officials have been taking bribes to let people go to the top of the list and are basically discriminating against the Kamra Indians. Um, not only because they're African but also because they don't speak Spanish. Uh, which is a huge language barrier that's presenting itself here.

Speaker 1: 01:21 And you said that this protest was actually resolved moments ago. What just happened? So what just happened?

Speaker 2: 01:27 The actually is earlier today after blocking traffic, uh, exasperated Mexican officials kinda grabbed eight representatives from the group, took them into the port of entry on the Mexican side, uh, had around an hour long conversation with them. Uh, and then the eight individuals they brought in came back out and told the protestors that they had reached an understanding where Cameroonians and Eritreans and other people of African descent who are here will be able to verify each morning that the list that is, uh, being used again, this unofficial kind of informal list, um, that the people who are names are being called are the ones whose names appear actually on that list as opposed to people who are, you know, basically paying their way to the top of the list. You had several situations where, uh, the Mexican officials would say, well, we're not taking anybody off the list today. And then sure enough, the Cameroonians would see people leaving on that bus that takes them to the u s uh, obviously showing that something was the foot that they were not party to. So they believe that they have some way to verify the veracity of the list and are gonna stay on top of this. They haven't said, oh, we're going to protest. I spoke to a gentleman named Douglas who had come out of these negotiations with Mexican officials. Here's what he had to say about moving forward with the protests.

Speaker 1: 02:44 Nothing. We got [inaudible] and in that clip he was saying there's nothing he can do. He doesn't have any papers to stay here. Tell me more about why people from Cameroon staged this protest. Um, people from Cameron

Speaker 2: 03:00 stage this protest again because they've been here for at least over two months. They were fleeing some really, um, dreadful and uh, persecution and Cameroon, they've come a very long way. Almost all of them have gone to somewhere in South America, gone through the jungle into Panama and found their way to Tijuana only to be stranded here now for uh, over two months for the most part. Um, a lot of these people were from the professional class in Cameroon or I was talking with lawyers, teachers who have been on the, the, um, end of persecution there and basically they understand the treacherous legal situation they're in. They have no status here. They cannot work. Uh, they were given two week visas when they entered Mexico at Chapa Chula. And those have since expired. That's something that the Mexican government has been using against them. When they show up and ask for entry, they say, well, you don't have a valid visa. And they say, well, you know, we thought we were going to be processed much earlier. So basically it's a, it's a, it's a, it's a boiling situation here. They're going increasingly exasperated and that led them to take direct action this morning, which, you know, we will see might have been somewhat successful.

Speaker 1: 04:06 Can you talk a bit about what the situation in Cameroon is? Why are people seeking asylum in the u s

Speaker 2: 04:12 yeah. The situation in Cameroon and not a lot of Americans are familiar with, but basically the French speaking majority that's around 80% of the country, uh, over the past two years has kind of a crackdown violently and, um, against the English speaking minority, which as a part of basically, uh, they claimed that they face persecution, tried to form a breakaway state from the other part of camera. And again, the French speaking majority, uh, which has resulted in a massive arrests, um, reprisals, violent reprisals by the military against this English speaking minority. So you end up with a large majority of Cameroonians coming and trying to enter the u s and claim asylum and actually do classically fit the American definition of asylum, which is that you are being politically persecuted. Um, they're not coming here because they didn't have work. Like I said, a lot of them are doctors, teachers, I'm at a nurse, lawyers, um, and they basically, uh, many people in the civil service. So as, as I'm sitting here right now in Tijuana, camera needs are walking away from the port of entry and, and seem resolved to, uh, to begin this protest another day or, or keep verifying whether what they've been told by the Mexican government is true. They've come a very, very long way and paid a, a pretty steep price at that.

Speaker 1: 05:27 And can you tell me a bit about what the metering policy is and how it may be standing in the way of Cameroonians getting a process for asylum? So for

Speaker 2: 05:37 over a year now, the United States has said they simply do not have the capacity to take all of the asylum seekers that are showing up along its southern borders. That includes the so called migraine caravans from Central America, but also much more frequently. Now we're seeing a lot of people from, uh, Equatorial Africa, um, basically people dealing with either political strife or climate change. And this has led to kind of a backlog here in places like to Quanta where people are not being allowed entry into the United States based on the idea that listen, we just don't have enough space. The veracity of those claims by the U S is interesting. Um, and, and hasn't really been, it's playing out right now in court, especially when it comes to the idea that there are people who are being returned back to Mexico who are, um, uh, claiming asylum and having to wait out their asylum claims in Mexico. Um, but while they're doing that, they're also, um, being held at the port of entry after they've been returned from a court in downtown San Diego for weeks at a time. So that's further exacerbating, uh, the stress on the ports of entry and the limited bed space and detention areas that they have. So really there was a bottleneck, not only in Tijuana, but also at the port of entry itself, which if it didn't have capacity before, almost certainly doesn't now.

Speaker 1: 06:56 So for now, negotiations have happened and things have resolved. This is something though I'm sure you'll keep an eye on, right?

Speaker 2: 07:04 Yeah. I mean, the, this is something that is going to happen every single morning because people are going to be following this list quite closely for many of them lacking healthcare, jobs and money. It is a matter of life and death. So they are, are going to continue to advocate for themselves and push this issue. And a, it's now on the Mexican side of things to kind of keep up the agreement that,

Speaker 1: 07:25 that they've come to with these protesters. All right. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Nadler Max, thank you so much. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 07:37 Uh.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.