Caravan Migrants Settle Into New Shelter in Tijuana, Far From Port of Entry

Dec 5, 2018

Mexican officials are moving some Central American migrants arriving in Tijuana as part of the caravan to a new government-run shelter, after rains flooded the sports facility where many had been staying.

The new site, an abandoned concert hall in eastern Tijuana called Barretal, has a capacity for 7,500 people. It’s not yet half full.

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Migrants say it’s better than the previous overcrowded municipal sports facility. It’s spacious, with a parking lot where people can bring donated clothing and food, and closed areas that provide shelter from the rain.

But there’s a downside: the facility is a 30-minute drive from the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where people who want to request asylum in the United States must put their names on a waitlist, and check in periodically to see if it’s their turn.

Most people have no idea how to get to the port from Barretal.

Manuel Antonio Lopez, a 54-year-old Honduran man who says he received death threats at home, put his name on the asylum waitlist while staying at the old shelter, a short walk from the port. He was given a number on a scrap of notebook paper: 1,479.

“I haven’t gone back since I got here, I don’t know the status of the list, if it’s my turn yet, I don’t know,” he says.

Migrants arrange cots on a floor at El Barretal on Dec. 4, 2018. (Jean Guerrero/KPBS)

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Lopez says he has no money to pay for bus tickets to get to the port, the only way he knows of to get there. Shelter coordinators say they’ll eventually create a method for letting people know when it’s their turn to speak to U.S. officials, and transferring them there.

In the meantime, migrants are confused. A Honduran woman who spoke anonymously because she fears for her life says she fled her country with her two daughters after her husband, an electrician, was killed for refusing to pay money to gangs.

She says she has been checking WhatsApp, an application on her phone, for news from a stranger who told her he’d put her name on the asylum wait list for her.

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“Someone wrote me down for asylum, but they didn’t give me a number yet,” she says. “They said they’d sent it to me through my phone.”

She teared up in indignation when talking about the lack of privacy at the shelter. Journalists are allowed to come in unsupervised. She says cameras are everywhere when she tries to shower with her daughters.

“There isn’t privacy. The cameras are always focusing on us, taking photos all the time. We aren’t actors,” she says. “Why are the cameras following us?”

Hundreds of migrants have refused to leave the old shelter near the port and set up camp outside on sidewalks.

Hundreds of others have signed up to go back home with the help of the International Organization for Migration and Mexico’s immigration agency.

Many were disillusioned with how hard it is to enter the U.S. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson says it will take five to eight weeks to even start processing people from the caravan, because of a pre-existing asylum backlog.

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