Migrants Wait, Hope in Mexican Border Towns

24 February, 2019

Migrants seeking to enter the United States continue to arrive in Tijuana and other Mexican cities along the U.S. border.

Some migrants are traveling in large groups with thousands of people. Others come in groups of just 10 or 12 people.

Many walk for days through Central America, then ride buses or trucks for the long trip through the Mexican countryside.

In border cities like Tijuana, they find help in shelters operated by aid groups.

Angela Escalante is an asylum seeker waiting in Tijuana. She is there with her husband and 7-year-old son.

"The situation is very bad, there are no jobs," she said of her country of Nicaragua, blaming its political violence on the country's president, Daniel Ortega. "There's no security so you can't safely walk the streets," she added.

Central American migrants settle in a shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, in Mexico City, Jan. 28, 2019.
Central American migrants settle in a shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, in Mexico City, Jan. 28, 2019.

Post-traumatic stress

New arrivals along the border say they also face violence from organized crime and local drug gangs.

Jorge Alejandro Valencia is a 19 year old from western Mexico. He told VOA that, around 14 years ago, criminals killed the brother and a son of his grandfather. Now, criminals are threatening his sister, Valencia said. He fears he and other family members are in danger.

Many migrants have experienced violence from organized crime groups, notes Gordon Finkbeiner. He works for the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders.

Finkbeiner says the group has witnessed and treated people with mental health problems linked to trauma. Many show high levels of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A 23-year-old Honduran, newly arrived in a shelter, said a gang demanded that he sell drugs. The young man said he could see no escape except to leave his country. He asked not to be identified, saying that the gangs watch Facebook and if his name is made public, they would target his family.

US citizens wait, too

Other people are also waiting in Tijuana's shelters. They include Africans and Haitians who moved from their home countries to Venezuela, and migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

A woman from Honduras, for example, has a 12-year-old son named Jimmy. He was born in the United States and has U.S. citizenship. Jimmy was sent to Honduras with his mother when the government ordered her to return to Honduras.

A middle-aged man named Efren Galindo was born in Mexico but grew up in Texas. Two years ago, he was sent back to Mexico and nearly killed by drug dealers, he said as he showed injuries to his back and shoulder.

Galindo has four sons and several grandchildren – all of them U.S. citizens.

Credible fear, big backlog

To receive asylum in the U.S., asylum seekers must show a clear possibility of harm or torture. They must show they are not simply fleeing poverty. People who have been deported from the United States face added restrictions. Many cannot return for five, 10, 20 or more years.

At the same time, the U.S. immigration system has a serious backlog of cases. The number of cases rose during the recent 35-day partial closing of the U.S. government. U.S. immigration officials said in a statement January 21 that the government faced "a crisis-level backlog of 311,000" asylum requests.

The backlog of all immigration court cases was more than 800,000 in November 2018, noted researchers at Syracuse University in New York State.

In addition, many detention centers that house illegal immigrants are temporary, notes Tekae Michael, a border agent who works south of San Diego, California. She said there are not enough immigration judges to process people correctly and quickly.

Mexico is permitting Central Americans to legally stay in the country temporarily. And volunteers from U.S. groups like San Diego's Border Angels bring supplies to the shelters. Mexican businesses are making donations.

Carlos Yee of the Catholic shelter Casa del Migrante says aid workers like him are angry because they lack the power to speed up the process.

"We only can say to them, ‘Be patient,'" he said.

The city of San Diego can be seen through a border barrier, just 30 kilometers north of Tijuana.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

And I'm Alice Bryant.

Mike O'Sullivan wrote this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

migrantn. a person who goes from one place to another, especially to find work or better living conditions

gangn. a group of young people who do illegal things together and who often fight against other gangs

trauman. a person who goes from one place to another especially to find work

anxietyn. fear or nervousness about what might happen

deportv. to force a person who is not a citizen to leave a country

backlogn. a large number of jobs that are waiting to be finished