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Inside Migrant Camp In Tijuana, Asylum-Seekers Are Waiting On A Plan

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Almost a month after the Biden administration launched a program to process some asylum-seekers along the southern border, hundreds of people are now camped outside of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Almost a month after the Biden administration launched a program to process some asylum seekers along the Southern border. Hundreds of people are now camped outside of the San Ysidro, port of entry, KPBS reporter max Rivlin Nather spoke with people there as they waited for their chance to claim asylum.

Speaker 2: 00:18 Marjorie Rosella has been living in Tiquana for a year after fleeing Honduras with her daughter almost a month ago, she told me she would stay outside the Santa seizure, port of entry for as long as it took for the Biden administration to allow her to claim asylum in the U S last Friday, she was still there.

Speaker 3: 00:38 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 00:38 She said it's been tough because of the rain. Her clothes are now wet. There's been freezing temperatures at night and in the morning

Speaker 3: 00:47 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 00:47 Is not alone. Hundreds of other asylum seekers are now camped out at El Chapo at all, uh, Plaza on the Mexican side of the Santa seizure, port of entry. There's some of the thousands of asylum seekers stuck in Tijuana who have been prevented from applying for asylum in the United States because of a Trump era rule, barring their entry. The Biden administration for the most part has kept that rule in place citing the pandemic that leaves thousands of asylum seekers, many who don't qualify to be processed under the Biden program without any idea of when there'll be allowed into the U S and camping out, waiting for information,

Speaker 3: 01:22 Uh, those that have decided to remain to stay. Uh, I want you to remain until they have answers.

Speaker 2: 01:26 Ian Philabaum is with innovation law lab, which advocates on behalf of a silent

Speaker 3: 01:32 In the absence of a coordinated dissemination and distribution of information about what that might look like is the number one reason that this cap currently exists

Speaker 2: 01:46 On Friday morning at the camp, there was a flurry of activity. The kitchen was distributing. Food doctors from Tijuana were looking into the health of migrants. And school was in session being led by asylum seekers who been teachers in their home country. 26 year old, Evelyn Sanchez is one of the teachers

Speaker 3: 02:05 [inaudible].

Speaker 2: 02:05 She said, she feels that the children experienced stress because of the situation they're living through and to wait for them to relax in school. She said, they're not necessarily going to learn to write, learn letters or numbers. They're going to share with their fellow classmates. They share their life experiences.

Speaker 3: 02:23 He that she feels that

Speaker 2: 02:25 People like her are common in the camp. People with something to provide

Speaker 3: 02:33 [inaudible],

Speaker 2: 02:34 They're educated people with principles, with values, and what they want for themselves is what they want for their children. And if they're there in Mexico, they're not just a nuisance or society's garbage, they're simply migrants, and they have rights rights, the same as everyone else. In the first few days of the camp, security was an issue as provocateurs and traffickers spread misinformation. Now, the campus watched over by a group of volunteers, including Marco Garcia, also from Honduras.

Speaker 1: 03:04 Uh [inaudible].

Speaker 2: 03:06 He said that when he came to the camp, he saw the need that no one was taking care of them. So we took initiative and got a safety vest and put it on. When people saw he was helping, they joined in well, many asylum seekers in the camper from central America, especially Honduras. There are people from across the world, including many Haitians, some of whom have recently arrived in Tijuana. As the political situation in their country continues to deteriorate. Jean-Claude. Jean spent five years in Chile after being targeted by organized crime and Haiti. He told me that his mother had already been killed by people looking for him. For that reason. He came to Tijuana. If he arrived in Haiti today, tomorrow he'd be dead.

Speaker 2: 03:50 Right now, the Biden administration is focused on finding shelter for the rising numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the Southwest border. I asked Marjorie [inaudible], who wants to be at the port of entry. The second change in policy is announced if she would ever think about sending her young daughter, Angie ahead, without her. That's why she's here. She told me to be legal. She's asking for help. And she's asking that Biden help her, her daughter, and every one of them there. She thinks that her daughter and her are in danger in Honduras and are very afraid of going back. She tells me she wants help or just some sort of plan to come soon.

Speaker 1: 04:27 Joining me as KPBS reporter max Revlon Nadler, max. Welcome. Good to be here. Now, the woman you profile in your story, Marjorie [inaudible] is now living in a camp by the San Ysidro border. Where had she been living in Tijuana before this vigil?

Speaker 2: 04:43 So she had been living in a series of shelters. She had been selling ice cream on the street. It was a very marginal and insecure situation, but she had given that up over three weeks ago now to come to the border under the impression that she would be able to apply for asylum or at least get on a list that would help her apply for asylum. That had been the informal way that people had gotten online to wait for asylum before the Trump administration effectively closed the border, uh, a year ago,

Speaker 1: 05:15 I think the status of the Biden border reforms is confusing. At this point, there are some asylum seekers who've been allowed entry into the U S isn't that right?

Speaker 2: 05:26 Yeah. And it sounded like confusing to us. It's confusing to asylum seekers as well. So the only people right now along the Southwest border, who can apply for asylum are people who have been sent back under the remain in Mexico policy. This is ironic because the remaining Mexico policy actually effectively ended asylum for a lot of people by saying that they had to stay in dangerous border cities while their core cases were processed in the United States. So only those people can apply. And right now the numbers are still pretty low. Um, just a couple hundred people have been at the San Ysidro port of entry, and there's still thousands and thousands more that are waiting to be processed. People who are not put in, remain in Mexico and people who have asylum claims that basically have never been interacted with by customs and border protection. They're not eligible right now to apply for asylum because the border is still closed under this thing known as title 42. So a lot of the people that are at this camp have never applied for asylum before,

Speaker 1: 06:25 Right? And then instead of the administration's attention being at San Ysidro or towards asylum seekers right now, it seems to be finding a way to house the increased number of unaccompanied children at the border. Can you tell us about that situation?

Speaker 2: 06:39 Right. So one of the major changes that the byte administration has already done is that they are no longer under title 42 returning the vast majority or a good number of unaccompanied children back to Mexico under the Trump administration under title 42. If you were a child, no matter what age, the vast majority were just turned back to Mexico or turned back in other parts of Mexico right now, a lot of children are getting through. The big issue is that border patrol does not right now have the facilities to house this many children. So a lot of attention is being paid to the conditions once again, where it seems year after year, uh, there was a surge of children at the border and border patrol says they're not ready for this situation. And this has a lot of people asking questions. Why don't we learn from the last few times that this happened over how we can surge resources to the border to allow for accommodations for children?

Speaker 1: 07:30 There has been criticism about how those children are being sheltered, comparing it even to Trump era cages, right?

Speaker 2: 07:38 So there are certain rules that really dictate, uh, and settlements and court rulings that dictate the treatment of children in border patrol custody. They're not supposed to stay there for longer than three days. They're supposed to be given shampoo. They're supposed to be given, uh, cleanli product. Um, and a lot of times that doesn't happen because a lot of times these are outposts deep in the desert and border patrol actually has misused funds that were given to border patrol to, uh, work with children, to, to give them necessary equipment, um, and spending it instead on things like ATVs and, and kind of gizmos and gadgets for border patrol agents. So that was direct funding that Congress had given them that they misspent. So now these children are staying in these border patrol facilities that aren't equipped, and then they're there right now. The Biden administration is trying to find a way to get them out of that sooner because for a lot of these kids, if they're eight, nine years old and you're get asked, Hey, where's your family in the U S it's going to take a while to figure out how to reconvene you with your family or get you to a sponsor.

Speaker 2: 08:40 And you're going to have to be in government, um, custody for much longer than 72 hours.

Speaker 1: 08:46 Now, when it comes to the people now waiting in the migrant camp, near the San Ysidro border, is there really no us plan right now to accept these asylum right

Speaker 2: 08:56 Now there isn't. And this is unprecedented because the right now asylum effectively is closed at the U S border. And that's something that the department of Homeland security has said. It says the, the Fronterra is closed. The border is closed. So there is no plan right now. And a lot of these asylum seekers just want to be given a timeline. But right now the focus is on children and processing people who had been returned to Mexico.

Speaker 1: 09:18 Now your report max gives us a glimpse into the lives of individuals waiting in this camp. These are human beings with talents and skills who have had escaped terrible situations. Do you think that reality usually gets lost when we talk about migrants at the border?

Speaker 2: 09:36 Absolutely. I think in terms of reporting, we need a lot more focus on why people are leaving and how this has really impacted every part of civil society in many of these countries, not only central America, but Cameroon. These are global situations that the U S is intimately involved in. If you look at central America, uh, you know, you can trace back a lot of the reasons why people are leaving to climate change, you know, governments that have been supported by the United States. This is a kind of a nuanced view of why people are leaving, as opposed to people are just coming here for work, or, you know, they think that they can make more money in the West. People are leaving for safety and opportunities and opportunities, basically that they're being deprived of by not being able to apply for asylum at the very least to have their claims looked at. Because right now there is no process for them.

Speaker 1: 10:31 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Rivlin, Nadler, and max. Thank you. Thank you.

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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.