Challenges Mount for Migrant Caravan
By Marielena Castellanos
A call to support what is being described as a Central American exodus continues, even after a clash at the border last Sunday between migrants and authorities on both sides of the border.
The American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) U.S.-Mexico Program condemned the Border Patrol for firing tear gas into Mexico after a group of migrants tried to cross the border. Images from numerous media outlets showed people running away from the gas clouds, including women and young children.
Chief Patrol Agent Rodney Scott with the San Diego Sector of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) told CNN that border agents had no choice but to use tear gas after they were threatened by migrants who attempted to cross illegally.
In what has never been seen before along the San Diego border with Mexico, CBP shut the entrances in and out of the border Sunday as U.S. government helicopters flew in the air, tear gas was shot several times by U.S. agents, U.S. troops lined the entrance on the U.S. side of the border, the San Diego Trolley was stopped and over a dozen police vans blocked the South and North bound lanes on the freeways.
AFSC denounced the closure of the north and south bound border crossing at the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry, and said in a press release, “It was a collective punishment tactic meant to sway public opinion against migrants seeking refuge.”
Support for Central American migrants comes as President Trump continues to support adding U.S. troops at the border to keep the migrants out of the U.S.
This week, the Pew Research Center reported the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. fell to its lowest level in more than a decade; the numbers are based on estimates from 2016 government data. The decline is due almost entirely to a sharp decrease in the number of Mexicans entering the country without authorization.
San Diego State University professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies Roberto D. Hernández of was a speaker at a rally held last Sunday in San Ysidro in support of the migrants, and he read a statement sent from the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose tribal members live along the Arizona border, which said in part, “In light of the President’s recent comments, it is clear that the intent behind this deployment of troops is confrontational,” adding, “It is clearly a dangerous political stunt geared towards influencing the election cycle, and the U.S. military should resist.”
The statement also said border communities should not be treated as war zones, and called on government authorities at all levels to push for the immediate cancelation of military deployment on the southern border.
Sometime before the clash, “Let them in,” was chanted by several hundred people who stood just feet away from the border fence as part of the peaceful demonstration in San Ysidro.
One of the speakers at the San Ysidro rally was Jeff Valenzuela, who works with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, and he addressed the recent caravan, “It’s not like we’ve seen before. This was an exodus. This is an exodus of people that have fled their homes. Nobody wants to leave. It’s out of necessity.”
Valenzuela was among those who walked with the thousands of migrants to the border, and he also said many left from their homes with only hours of notice, packing their whole lives in a backpack.
He also talked about how U.S. policies in Central America have pushed people out of their home countries to the U.S. and added, “I’ve seen it on the other side of this border in Mexico along with other members of Pueblo Sin Fronteras. You probably saw on the news in Tijuana where a bunch of Trump supporters came down to instigate and incite violence. I had rocks thrown at me, where there were people sleeping, children sleeping.”
The San Diego Migrant and Refugee Solidarity Coalition organized the rally and had a number of demands, including respect for those seeking asylum, a stop to the criminalization of refugees, and also asked that asylum claims be handled with expediency at all Ports of Entry.
For months the world has watched as the caravan has made its way to the border. The U.S. prepared for the migrant’s arrival by putting troops at the border, adding barbed wire, and taking other security measures. Meanwhile, asylum requests are being processed slowly. The Associated Press reports fewer than 100 asylum petitions a day.
On the Mexican side, a sports complex in Tijuana was opened to accommodate migrants, but it is already over capacity, as are all shelters due to more than 5,000 migrants arriving and more expected in a city that already has a population of 1.6 million. In October, NBC 7 News reported more than 2,000 homicides have occurred in the city this year, according to figures from the State Attorney’s Office (PGJE). Tension is also running high as some Tijuana residents are opposed to the caravan. Tijuana’s Mayor, Juan Manuel Gastelum, declared humanitarian crises and is waiting for the federal government there to answer his call for more financial resources for the migrants. This week Mexico also pledged to increase security along its border.
Hopelessness is weighing heavily for many of the migrants who traveled thousands of miles with hope for a better future now dwindling with the increasing challenges along the border and a number saying they will return home.
Gloria Andrade, who was born and raised in San Diego and attended the rally, explained why she was there, “My heart pours out for the asylum seekers, for the refugees. They’ve had no breaks at all. They’ve just been given one bad thing after another. For us who are relatively comfortable, we have to reach back and bring them back to us. We have to find the way to house them, to feed them, to help them get a new life. It’s our fault that this is happening in their countries,” she said.