African Migrants Protest Treatment By Mexican Authorities In Tijuana
KPBS Roundtable / July 12, 2019
Migrants from Cameroon have been waiting in Tijuana for more than two months to cross into the U.S. to seek asylum. Most are members of the English-speaking minority, which has faced intense persecution since 2016.
Speaker 1: 00:01 Asylum seekers fleeing violence in Cameroon find themselves bogged down in Tijuana. The stage in effective protest this week, claiming corruption by Mexican officials, southwestern college and Chulavista has endured multiple scandals. Now the new college president is tackling racial tension among both staff and students and it's pride weekend in San Diego, how the spirit of the stonewall riots are being celebrated locally 50 years later. Hi, Mark Sauer. The KPBS round table starts now.
Speaker 2: 00:40 [inaudible]
Speaker 1: 00:43 welcome to our discussion to the week stop stories. I'm mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today, education reporter Kristen Takota of the Union Tribune reporter Max Riverland, Adler of KPBS news and reporter John Carroll also of KPBS News. Well, nearly all attention regarding our current border crisis is focused on asylum seekers from Central America, but those fleeing violence and persecution from a very different part of the world made news in a clash with Mexican authorities in Tijuana this week. Max, let's start with who these asylum seekers from Central America are [inaudible].
Speaker 3: 01:20 Um, many of them overwhelmingly are from Ecuadorian Africa. They are from Cameroon, which has recently over the past two years, experienced significant political turmoil. Uh, in addition, you have some people from Eritrea as well, but the vast majority, like I said, are, are Cameroonians who belong to the English speaking minority in that country. They've come a very, very long way. Usually the journey takes around four months. They fly into countries in South America that don't require a visa like Ecuador. And then they travel on land from there all the way up to our southern border where they're now enduring a months long waits to enter the United States and try to apply for asylum.
Speaker 1: 01:59 So I mean, journey literally halfway around the world here. And let's back up a a minute here and explain why these Cameroonians did the, where they fled their country, why they're headed to the u s and we should note they are seeking asylum, which of course is legal at our border. And we talked about that quite a bit on this show.
Speaker 3: 02:15 Yeah. So, uh, the history of camera and is fairly fascinating, especially postcolonial, uh, where 80% of the countries represented by the French speaking majority and 20% is the English speaking minority. Um, starting around two years ago, the English speaking minority began being kind of edged out of civil society. Uh, this led to protest by that English speaking minority, which then led to a crack down by the government, uh, violent crackdowns by the government. And there's been violence going both both directions, um, but almost all of the camera and into arrive in a t quanta are of that English speaking minority, which presents actually a huge challenge for them. Seeing as though, um, they don't speak Spanish. The other asylum seekers that are arriving on that border,
Speaker 1: 03:02 right. So a real problem once they finally get to Tijuana, even though the journey was so urgent now, um, lots of deaths there in a Cameroon. I mean, it's a very violent situation, right?
Speaker 3: 03:12 Yeah. Lots of deaths. Um, not only individuals I had spoke to had said things like, um, that the military had gone around and, and killed entire villages, really desperate dismal images that they shared with me. So they're, they're not leaving Cameroon, uh, for lack of employment or things of that nature. A lot of these people have, um, law degrees that they were nurses. These were higher ranking members of civil society and Professional Society. They're higher educated people, higher educated people with advanced degrees who are making a very risky, uh, trip that, that not everyone survived,
Speaker 1: 03:51 literally, literally fleeing for their lives. Yeah.
Speaker 3: 03:53 Fleeing for their lives. Yeah, absolutely.
Speaker 1: 03:55 And the UN estimates according to report, I read 'em almost half a million people displaced just since 2017 in that country.
Speaker 3: 04:03 Yeah. That tracks especially because, uh, you know, at least several thousand, uh, camera Indians have shown up along our southern border. Of course, we're not the only destination for people from Equatorial Africa who are fleeing political strife a lot head towards Europe, across the Mediterranean. A lot of people stay in South America, not, not too many, uh, because it's not as, um, in terms of asylum law is not as welcoming as the u s especially because a lot of the individuals coming to our southern border from a place like Cameroon do fit within our classical definition of asylum, which is political persecution.
Speaker 1: 04:36 And, uh, to, uh, play devil's advocate a bit here in our, our raucous immigration debate over all. Why not, uh, why wouldn't these folks stay in South America or other countries that they come as into as first countries instead of making the trek all the way up to this border?
Speaker 3: 04:52 Um, the United States is a very welcoming place for refugees in comparison to a lot of these other countries. Uh, these are, uh, people of from Africa, places like Ecuador, Brazil, um, Mexico is specially have some really bad track records in regards to African immigrants. Of course the United States is, you know, not great on all of these issues, but we do have a country where someone who is a refugee can become a member of Congress, which is kind of unthinkable in some of these other countries. It's clear why they would want to come to the u s actually though, in speaking with a lot of people, they've soured a little bit on their perception of what the u s is, especially when they understand what's been going on on the border. In fact, one person told me a, is there a way I could just keep going into Canada? So, um, you know, definitely, uh, seeing the u s as their best option. Um, but not their only one.
Speaker 1: 05:45 All right, let's get back specifically to this clash in Tijuana this week that you reported on what's behind the Cameroonians claims of, of corruption and what do they do to protest?
Speaker 3: 05:54 So right now, the way that you enter the states through the port of entries, you put your name on this list. This is an unofficial list kept by migrants handed from one migrant to another, all overseen and kind of blessed by Mexican immigration and tacitly the u s immigration authorities as well. Uh, you get on the list, you wait time right now is between seven to nine months and over the past few months, a few weeks, sorry, the numbers of people being called to enter the United States have been dwindling rapidly. So a lot of people are being stuck in Tijuana for, for months. And on top of that, what they're seeing is that no numbers are being called and no names are being called, but vans of asylum seekers are being taken from Mexico into the United States. This is led to questions by the Cameroonians, who are these people? Why are they being brought in and claims that Mexican immigration officials are being bribed? And that's how people are able to, in essence, skip the list and earn their place in, uh, the u s asylum process.
Speaker 1: 06:56 So it's just basically, this isn't fair. We've waited. We've done our term, we're down here struggling to up to hang on and survive and people are jumping line basically.
Speaker 3: 07:05 Yeah. That's their claim. And, and NGOs working in the area have confirmed that that these types of instances are not rare. This is happening. We know that bribery happens along the southern border from immigration officials on both sides of the border. Right? Um, this is something that is endemic to a desperate situation where people are willing to spend a lot of money to kind of secure their lives.
Speaker 1: 07:26 All right, we have our clip here. A gentleman involved in negotiations in Tijuana talking about dealing with Mexican immigration officials. Let's hear that.
Speaker 2: 07:35 Okay. We don't want to start with tricks to say, if you don't do this, we do this. We don't do this. We do this. [inaudible] is no good. At least for diplomacy, sick. We agree to certain terms of which will come tomorrow. We'll start executing.
Speaker 1: 07:50 So how did they try to resolve this confrontation down there in Tijuana?
Speaker 3: 07:54 Right. So the asylum seekers had blocked the carport that brought the migrants into the United States, physically just physically sat down and blocked it. And this was, I spoke with a few of them and they said, listen, this type of kind of, um, protest is not rare for us. We've come from a political struggle. We understand that sometimes to get what you need and what you want and to be hurting and to put your body on the line. Uh, this presented a huge issue for Mexican immigration officials where it took them around two hours to figure out what they were going to do, um, to deal with the, the African migrants and kind of in this flustered state, one Mexican official pointed at eight individuals, took them into the port of entry and after an hour they emerged, um, announcing that they had negotiated a kind of end to the protest that would include the migrants being able to verify that the numbers being called every day matched up with whose turn it was on the list.
Speaker 3: 08:50 So adding this verification to it and giving people peace of mind. This didn't satisfy everybody at the protest, a lot of compromise. It was a compromise. And a lot of people said, how do we trust them? You know, this is just them getting forced. Exactly. We have our position, we're blocking this. Why would we give this up right now? Uh, so classic political strategy and protest strategy, kind of playing out in plain view. And the, this individual was saying, one of the negotiators he was, he was saying that basically we don't want this to become a daily occurrence. We don't want this to continue escalating because we know possibly where that leads, we don't want it to be a threat. What we want this to be is an ongoing conversation.
Speaker 1: 09:27 I guess if it got bad enough, they could, Mexican Fisher could deport these folks here and get them out of, do you want an entirely
Speaker 3: 09:33 in a heartbeat? Um, you know, they have no status in Mexico. They a were given 20 day tourist visas when they entered the United States, eh, sorry. When they entered Mexico in shop Chula and they, uh, those have expired. And that's another point that they were arguing was that, you know, basically they've set up an impossible situation where they're not able to work or access health care or you know, really find stable housing because by essence of how long they've had to wait and how their visas have already expired, they're there without authorization.
Speaker 1: 10:03 So really tough living conditions for them. They're in Tijuana, a, we're about out of time on this segment, but how likely they might get to San Diego and actually have an asylum hearing.
Speaker 3: 10:12 So right now, um, I report out another story this week that the wait list is right now at the longest that it's ever been. Um, and this has to do with capacity issues at the port of entry. It's unclear exactly what the backup is. We do know that people who are being returned to Mexico as part of the brand new, uh, migrant protection protocols policy, which returns people to wait their asylum case in Mexico, uh, they're being held for days or weeks at a time at the port of entry. It's unclear why, um, but this is backing things up majorly and it's unclear whether this might be a tactic by the current administration to deny people access to the United States. Um, but it's definitely slowing things down. Um, if these people are going to enter the United States, they're still gonna have to wait a few months.
Speaker 1: 10:58 All right, well we'll watch for more reporting on this. It's certainly a fluid situation there. We're gonna move on, or racial tension has simmered for decades at troubled southwestern community college, but it's not a white versus Hispanic or white versus black situation at the South Bay campus, which has had a string of scandals in recent years. The racial problems involved clashes between Hispanic and black employees and Hispanic and black students. And Kristen's start with the ethnic makeup on this campus where whites and African Americans are distinct minorities.
Speaker 4: 11:30 Yeah. So, um, oh, essentially most of the students at southwestern college are Hispanic and in it is a Hispanic serving institution, which is something that the college is pretty proud about. And then, um, in terms of African American students, I think it measures about 5% of the student body. So that roughly matches what the racial demographics are for the larger region around there. And then for whites, I believe it's about 12% of students. And so, um, it's kind of an interesting setup that you don't see very commonly at higher education institutions because usually it's, there's like usually a white majority, but in this case it's a Hispanic majority, and then, um, there's continues to be a, um, um, black minority. And so I think because they, um, just because of the numbers, um, in terms of, um, one out, uh, one at Wayne, the other, um, I think that's led to some tensions among, um, some people who feel like that they're just not getting access to resources that the majority is getting. And so that's, um, partly what's contributed to this tension
Speaker 1: 12:33 and, and a lot of the tensions actually involved the 1300 employees at a southwestern college, right?
Speaker 4: 12:40 Yeah. I think, I think most of the tensions we've seen have been coming from employees and so started on that side. Yeah. Yeah. So basically what's been happening is there's been lots of, um, a lot of claims that the college has been having to deal with.
Speaker 1: 12:55 Yeah. What are some of the specifics there?
Speaker 4: 12:57 Yeah, so, um, I think a lot of the claims were kind of documented in some form in a report that was done by USC researchers about a year ago and, um, in which they interviewed, um, and number of employees and I and majority of the employees, but around, I think it was around 10% of their employees or a decent sample. Yeah. It was a sample. Um, and I think there were some controversy as to they wanted us to not thinking about wasn't enough of a sample size to be like a credible study of the college by, um, that's kind of a, an additional issue. But, um, and the people they did interview, they did find that, um, a lot of, um, specifically African American classified employees had, um, endured, uh, numbers, a number of discriminatory, um, incidents, whether it was being called the n word or, um, being passed up for promotions by pupil who had similar. Um, even though they had similar qualifications. And so there was a lot of, um, and then some of the, some of the owl, uh, allegations we're pretty, we're printing graphic are pretty intense. And so, um, that that's what led the USC researchers, the writers to believe that southwestern had a very, um, they call it a toxic campus climate.
Speaker 1: 14:19 One of the worst they'd seen and looking at.
Speaker 4: 14:21 Yeah, that's what they, that's what they, that's what they claimed. And so, but that was based off of those interviews. And so, um, the, I think even though there was some controversy as to whether like how credible their report report or thorough the report was, um, the colleges leaders have still really kind of taken on that report. And then they've really been, they haven't been, um, like shying away from talking about race. Um, like other leaders might buy 'em they've been trying to kind of tackle this issue.
Speaker 1: 14:53 Well, that was a next question. I had the leadership relatively new there. What about the president of the college and how is she dealing with these problems? What did she say?
Speaker 4: 15:00 Yeah. So the problem, the superintendent and president is Kendra Marijo. She joined about two and a half years ago. And so she's still relatively new. But, um, I think one of the things I was actually mentioned in that USC report is that a lot of people believe she has been, um, very open and like very, um, committed to, um, talk to addressing all these issues. And so, um, I think big focus she's done is going to look at human resources because a lot of these issues came from, um, employee and claims and, um, the college has been having to actually pay out a lot of money to settle these claims.
Speaker 1: 15:38 Yeah. What was the, the total cost are getting is a to seven figures there, aren't we?
Speaker 4: 15:41 Yeah, it was, um, it was two, at least six figures, I think it was about 800. It was, it was several hundred thousand dollars a year to just to investigate all these claims. And the college has promised to investigate any claim within 72 hours. And so they're trying to try to tackle that issue. But, um, and so, yeah. So, uh, the president has been focusing on fixing HR. So whether that's in, like, whether that's putting in basic systems like accounting for who exactly they're employing and how much they're paying them. And then also a lot of it has been about, um, hiring more diverse staff, um, increasing those numbers. And so it's kind of interesting. They're really honing in and laser focusing on diversity. So they're tracking the diversity of every hiring committee and they won't even let a hiring continue if it's not diverse enough. And then they're also tracking the diversity of every, um, every, uh, candidate pool and who gets to the next level. And so, um, that has led to some increases in, um, diversity when it comes to Hispanic employees. Um, it hasn't increased it much for African American employees yet, but that's based on two years of data. So, um, they still have more years to go, I guess.
Speaker 1: 17:01 And the racial tensions, as we noted, are spilling over into the student body. What happened recently involving Hispanic and black studies.
Speaker 4: 17:09 Um, so recently they were about, the students were about to have their annual student government election. Um, in May, but, uh, what happened was it was canceled by the president because of a number of issues that came up, um, a lot of the students. So, um, and it was interesting because there are two slates of candidates and then one was predominantly African American and one was predominantly Hispanic. And then, um, it's Kinda hard to track everything that happened because there is a lot, but, um,
Speaker 1: 17:40 I'm sure social media was involved.
Speaker 4: 17:42 Yeah. Yeah. It was involved and there was a lot of kind of, he said she said, um, going on, but, um, basically of the major incidents to happen was there is this Instagram post that kind of, nobody knows exactly who was responsible for this post, but it was very, um, it was kind of, a lot of people said it was inciting trying to incite, um, dissension. And basically it was, it was, and it, um, led to an art ed led to debate as to whether, um, the African American slate was being, uh, kind of framed for racial discrimination and against Hispanics. And so it was very, um, so that, that and then a contentious election related meaning that happened, just kind of led the superintendent to shut the election down. Yeah. So that was very unusual, but they believe it was necessary and they investigate. Yeah.
Speaker 1: 18:38 We're out of time in this segment. We'll look for your reporting going forward. It sounds like a lot of work to be done out there and problems to resolve this weekend brings the annual pride festival to San Diego. The event has grown to one of the largest in the United States with nearly 200,000 people expected to celebrate h g B t Q community and 20 nineteens pride festival brings extra sudden significance cause this is the 50th anniversary of the stonewall riots in New York that launch the modern gay rights movement. So a John, let's start with the famous riots there. The Greenwich Village Establishment. Give us kind of the overview of the WHO, what, when, why of this famous episode.
Speaker 5: 19:16 So we're talking about the stonewall Aeon, which was a gay bar, although it wasn't called that back in the columns 69. They called the men's bars. Uh, and uh, what happened was that it was on the evening of June 28th, as I said, 1969 and it was an evening where this gentleman that I spoke with, I know we'll get more into that in a second, said that, uh, the patrons, uh, primarily drag queens in the establishment, um, but all of them together had just had enough. And, uh, the police came in that night. And according to this, uh, man, we're particularly brutal, uh, to the patrons and who knows who threw the first punch or the first glass or whatever, but whoever did, they were off to the races at that.
Speaker 1: 20:04 And that was not uncommon at the time in New York and other cities across the country where police would simply raid a facility like this simply because there's gay people inside.
Speaker 5: 20:13 Not Uncommon at all. He told me about another time when he was out at another club and um, uh, the police, they thought they were the police first and then they later realized they were actually feds came in to this club and made everyone get up against the wall and proceeded to smash every mirror and every bottle of liquor in the bar with hammers. And uh, then left.
Speaker 1: 20:35 Well, let's get into the specifics. We were talking about a, a San Diego, Joe Nerven [inaudible] a was there a at the time of the stone wall then the night of it, the set the scene for us. And what did he see when he got to the scene?
Speaker 5: 20:47 He was
Speaker 1: 20:48 a young social worker in Manhattan at the time and involved in the community. I don't know if he'd call himself an activist, but he was probably a nascent activist. And his phone rang at about four in the morning with some friends who said, look, there's been trouble down in the village, Greenwich Village and get on down here when you can because we need people to show up. So I hope we can go right. And he got down there at about seven the following morning that Saturday morning. And he says, when he was approaching the scene, he knew that this was not your ordinary, you know, disruption that that was serious because there was a New York police car that was on fire right across from the bar and people were gathering and chanting and, uh, it was quite the rocket scene apparently even that many hours later. And it went on for several days.
Speaker 5: 21:38 It did. It, it extended through July 1st. And you know, there's a lot of times we in the media say it launched the modern gay rights movement. And that's not really true. It's super charged to the, the nascent gay rights movement. But that had really started years before with the Matta Ashian society in Los Angeles and another group in Chicago whose name escapes me at the moment. But those, it was sort of simmering for a while, the movie.
Speaker 1: 22:03 And, uh, and uh, how does he describe life for gay men back back then, 50 years ago in New York and other cities?
Speaker 5: 22:11 Not Great. Uh, if you wanted to, um, hang out with your gay folks. Um, he actually was a bit more pointed about it than that. He said we were in fact criminals and we could be arrested at any given time, uh, just for being,
Speaker 1: 22:28 just for being who you are. Yeah, no. Uh, what in his opinion was the aftermath of, of stonewall? What changed? How fast did it change?
Speaker 5: 22:36 So it did sort of spark organizing. People began to really get serious about coming together form groups that would try to move the, the, that was just called gay rights back then movement forward. And so that happened. Uh, there were a lot of groups that formed and in fact the next year on the anniversary in 1970, they had a huge parade. And when we talk about parades back then, it's not like the parades we think of today, like we're going to see Saturday and Hillcrest. It was much more of a serious movement oriented kind of thing where they were out there to change society to get equal rights instead of just, you know, celebrate being who they were. That would happen later.
Speaker 1: 23:19 Yeah. To get out of shadows to avoid being in places where police were coming in the rating assembly to raid them. Yeah. Uh, so, uh, what's life like now for a Joe Narbonne here in San Diego
Speaker 5: 23:33 while he is still working? No young man anymore. It's been 50 years. None of us just show you the answer, that's for sure. He's a 77 and he is still doing the same kind of work. He is a clinician, the San Diego Naval Medical Center, the hospital in Balboa Park and he works with um, uh, sailors, marines, soldiers and uh, he talked to me about how upsetting it is, what has happened recently with transgendered, uh, members of the military, how they are being just severely kicked out due to the, uh, rule from the Trump administration and how he deals with them, helping them. And it's really a, it's a difficult situation to put it. Mild.
Speaker 1: 24:14 All right. We've got a little over a minute to go. A wonder to turn to pride weekend. It's upon us here and say was, as we said at the outset, what's the general event going to look like this year?
Speaker 5: 24:23 Well, it'll be the biggest parade in San Diego of the year as it has been for a long time. And let me just go over a couple of quick things. Now. By the time we air on television, this will have already happened, but for our radio audience, uh, there is, um, a spirit of stonewall rally, which starts at six tonight at the Hillcrest pride flag at a normal and university. Um, tomorrow morning if you want to be an early bird, there's a pride five k run at 8:00 AM the parade, uh, which, uh, is called stonewall 50 legacy of liberation. Great with the titles, uh, starts at 10:00 AM at the pride flag and it proceeds down the western university left on sixth, and that ends, uh, at Quince, uh, the festival, uh, in Balboa Park is open from 11:00 AM to 10 on Saturday and 11:00 AM to nine on Sunday. And you're advised to rideshare or take a scooter and park it and
Speaker 1: 25:18 because it's going to be darn crowded. All right. And we're out of town and at time, and it's exhausting as just running through the offense there. But a lot of going on this weekend of pride weekend. Well, that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Kristen Takota of the Union Tribune Max reel and Nadler of KBS news, and John Carroll also of KPBS news. And the reminder, all the stories we discussed today available on our website, KPBS dot. O r. G I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today and join us again next Friday on the round.