Hope Arrives In Tijuana Migrant Encampment, As More Asylum-Seekers Allowed To Enter U.S.
Speaker 1: 00:00 The Southern border remains close to almost all asylum seekers, but in recent weeks, increasing numbers of migrants have been allowed to enter the United States. KPBS reporter max Rivlin nether was on the ground into Juana, as it was decided who must stay and who can enter Speaker 2: 00:20 The migrant camp. And I'll chop it out. Plaza in Tijuana has only grown in recent weeks. Hundreds of asylum seekers from central America, from Africa, from the Caribbean wait for the day, the United States fully restores its asylum system along the Southwest border. But for the first time, since the camp sprung up in February, there's some hope a few families who have been living here are getting into the United States, escaping the cramped and dangerous spaces of the haphazard camp. I mean, these Speaker 3: 00:50 Are terrible conditions. You know, you have kids that are running around, uh, it wasn't until recently that, uh, that local governments put in, uh, bathrooms and showers. And so it's been a struggle for them. Speaker 2: 01:02 That's Pedro Rios with the American friends service committee. His organization is one of the few groups, still making trips to the camp to offer support face masks, hygiene kits, and some advice about this new way to safely enter the United States. It's part of a deal struck between the American civil liberties union and the Biden administration stemming from a lawsuit, challenging a migrant expulsion policy known as title 42. The deal now allows for 250 families or individuals to enter the United States along the Southwest border each day to pursue their asylum claims, deciding who ends up on the list that gets sent to the U S government is up to these service providers on the ground in Tijuana. It's based, not on their claims of asylum from their home countries, but how much danger they face in Mexico. Robert Vivar is swamped as he tries to make it through the encampment. Looking for someone whose case he's looking into, Speaker 3: 02:00 You know, you can imagine how many, uh, parole requests are being handled at this time, just at this port of entry alone. Speaker 2: 02:07 He's with United us deported veterans and has an office just down the block from the camp. Dozens of people ask him when they'll get a call back from overworked, immigration lawyers or tell him their child is sick and endanger. There's just no way for Vivar to help everyone. But he's trying, Speaker 3: 02:24 It's pretty difficult to tell people to have patients when they're running away because of persecution. You know, it's not safe, you know where they're coming from, or, or even here, you know, they, uh, they've had threats, you know, that they've been followed and it's just, it's, it's a difficult situation for them. And you can understand why they would be so desperate right Speaker 2: 02:44 Now. The focus has been to locate pregnant women, people with pressing medical needs and those in immediate danger in Mexico, but migrants without working papers or homes are constantly under threatened. Mexico, Rafa and Teriana. A member of the LGBT community is one of those people who could have a strong asylum case where he allowed into the U S he says he fled Honduras. After his house was burned down. He was beaten and his friends were killed under the current arrangement. He's not being prioritized. Speaker 3: 03:21 [inaudible] he says it's been Speaker 2: 03:22 Hard because the volunteer lawyers that come they're asking for families, for people with serious illnesses. So we can't find representation. It's really hard to be alone for a situation like this one Speaker 3: 03:36 [inaudible] Speaker 2: 03:36 Every morning and afternoon, customs and border protection agents call out names at the port of entry, into Quana Speaker 4: 03:46 [inaudible] Speaker 2: 03:46 Late Thursday afternoon. Several families entered the United States to begin an asylum process that will take years to resolve Dulce Garcia. The executive director of border angels spent three weeks working in the encampment, finding the people who can get to safety. Now, Speaker 4: 04:04 The tent next to me is leaving because they're cross into the U S finally Garcia Speaker 2: 04:09 Hopes that the system won't last much longer pressure is growing on the Biden administration to drop title 42 and restore the asylum system along the border. Until that happens, the encampment at El Chapo trial, won't be going anywhere. Robert Vivar says, yes, Speaker 3: 04:25 People leave more people pick their spot. Speaker 1: 04:29 Joining me is KPBS reporter max Roven Nadler. Max, welcome back. Good to be here. Is there any estimate of how many people are camped in the El Chaparral Plaza? Speaker 5: 04:40 It's tough right now to get a real accurate count sing as though a lot of these tents are right on top of each other, but I've heard anywhere between 500 people to a thousand people. And a lot of them being very young children. Speaker 1: 04:54 When is the migrant camp at El Chaparral? The only place asylum seekers are camped in Tijuana, or is it one of several? Speaker 5: 05:01 It was the only large migrant camp and the kind of makeshift form that we see with these tents that are covered with tarps. A lot of people are staying in shelters spread throughout. Tiquana the reason why the camp has become a popular place for people just arriving in Tijuana is because those shelters are full without any release valve for people able to enter the United States. There hasn't really been any capacity added for people to stay in places that are a lot more formal and safe. Speaker 1: 05:28 Now, you and I spoke about title 42 recently, that's the public health code used by the Trump administration to close the border. During the height of the pandemic, many health experts were skeptical about its usefulness even then. So why is it still in effect? Speaker 5: 05:44 That's a great question. Even testifying this morning in front of Congress, um, DHS secretary new orcas said that it's ineffective because of health measures because it's needed to control the spread of COVID-19. Now the CDC itself, and many people involved in policymaking around healthcare in this country have said, it doesn't really do anything. We know this because thousands of people cross the border every day without being tested. In fact, people who get in through the asylum system in the U S are often tested far more often and frequently than people who are just crossing for work or cross in other formal ways, like taking a flight. Can Speaker 1: 06:23 You give us more of a sense of what life is like for the asylum seekers waiting in Tijuana? It's a Speaker 5: 06:29 Really difficult into Quan or right now a lot of these people have been there for a while. Yeah, there are some new arrivals, but a lot of people I've spoken to have been there for a year or longer. It's incredibly hard to find work in a pandemic and not have a work permit that a lot of these people either, they got it when they entered through Southern Mexico and their work permits have expired, or they never had one to begin with. So just day-to-day basics is really difficult. Finding food. A lot of people are going hungry. The camp itself is a cramped environment. A lot of children are getting sick and basically there's not really much to do besides, um, hanging around and that's allowed some, you know, criminal elements to, to come into the camp and try to make some money off of it, either through extortion or just basically redirecting of, of charitable donations Speaker 1: 07:18 And who sets the standards for who gets chosen first across into the U S you say, these agencies are looking for pregnant women or people who are sick. Is that their call or are these government priorities Speaker 5: 07:33 Right now? It's the government that's making the final call. All these eight organizations. And legally it organizations can do is to identify people that desperately need to cross the border. Of course, a lot of people desperate leading to cross the border. So they're looking for people whose lives are imminently at risk. So that could be pregnant women. I heard a heartbreaking story of a woman who miscarried with two twins. Um, that's people who need medical care immediately who might have tumors or cancer. Then again, there are people who face immediate threats of violence, and those people are getting in as well, or have been victims of violence. So there's a wide net, but it is being winnowed down by the government. Advocates are hoping that this then gets expanded over the next couple of weeks. Speaker 1: 08:15 You know, one person you mentioned in your report, Robert Vivar is with a group called United deported veterans. Can you tell us more about their work with these asylum seekers? Speaker 5: 08:25 Yeah. So Robert Vivar is kind of a, he's relatively new to working with these asylum seekers specifically. It just so happens. His office is down the block from where the migrant camp has set up. So he's been working with, uh, one woman, uh, last week who was able to enter through these title 42 humanitarian exceptions. She was the mother of somebody who was active duty in the military right now. And she'd been deported over a year ago. That's the work that Vivar is working on. Obviously that's a group that he's with people, uh, veterans and their families, but more generally, he's just become one of these aid workers in the area who is able to funnel a lot of these people to lawyers to help them get on these lists. Are Speaker 1: 09:07 There any plans to expand the criteria of these lists, uh, for people who are selected to cross, for instance, uh, like the member of the LGBTQ community you spoke with? Speaker 5: 09:18 Yeah, I think right now, uh, advocates are pulling for basically the largest, uh, group possible to be allowed in through these lists. But ultimately their goal is to get rid of these lists entirely and to basically get rid of title 42 and restore the asylum system along the Southern border. Right now it's being, um, extended on an ad hoc basis month by month. It's entirely possible that the Biden administration is making these agreements with groups like the American civil liberties union to allow 250 families into the country because they know just how vulnerable title 42 is in court. And they want to hold onto it for as long as possible before groups like the sale, you kind of force their hand and make them withdraw it. So I would expect over the summer at the very least title 42 to go away, or the, uh, categories of people could enter to be expanded so much that it would be kind of virtually ineffective and, and no longer have such a detrimental effect on people seeking asylum. Speaker 1: 10:17 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter max Revlin Nadler, max. Thank you very much. Thank you.