Monday, October 17, 2016
Critical Mass: Baja California's Migrant Crises are in the Eleventh Hour
come from many of the war-torn, economically pillaged and environmentally devastated corners of the globe, principally from
Haiti and the Congo, but also Eritrea, Senegal, Ghana, Pakistan, and other nations. In the thousands, men, women and children
now wait in the northern Mexican border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali on their last, hopeful stopover in epic journeys to
the United States.
But with the United States only admitting several dozen people a day for entry interviews,
before dispatching asylum seekers to immigrant detention for possible deportation, the local Mexican migrant support network
that shelters and feeds people has hit the breaking point.
In Tijuana, for instance, the Padre Chava shelter, one
of ten in the Baja California city that receives migrants, housed 271 people on a recent day, including pregnant women and
34 children. Tensions boiled over as many were forced to bed down on the floor without mattresses.
are overwhelmed, completely overwhelmed,” said Margarita Andonaegui, the shelter’s administrator. “We lose
control when we have more than 200 people.” With no shelter readily available, hundreds of others have been forced to
sleep in the streets. Other migrants possessing money have been able to rent rooms in hotels or private homes, giving
parts of Tijuana the aspect of a Little Haiti, according to one local news account.
both in Baja California and in Mexico City, pledge that assistance to the refugee/migrants will be increased in the days ahead.
But for many on the ground, time has run out.
In Mexico City, Wilmer Metelus, president of the Citizens
Committee for the Defense of Afro Mexicans and the Naturalized, called the drama in Baja California a “humanitarian
crisis” that requires the intervention of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, civil society and the government.
governmental and non-governmental human rights and migrant advocacy organizations are weighing in on the issue. In Tijuana,
the Pro-Migrant Defense Coalition demanded that the Mexican government refrain from making statements that “downplay
the problem” and expedite a response to the crisis.
The activists also criticized the U.S. policy of forcing
migrants to wait a few weeks on the Mexican side of the border before getting interviews, thus plugging the pipeline and overwhelming
the capacities of migrant shelters.
With an estimated 300 Haitians and other foreign nationals arriving
in Baja California every day, the new migrant flow is also making it difficult if not impossible for the existing shelters
to assist the ongoing arrivals of deportees from the United States as well as Mexican migrants coming from the south, including
possible asylum-seekers fleeing violence in the states of Michoacan and Guerrero, according to the Coalition.
early October], Mexico’s official National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) requested that the federal Interior Ministry,
the Secretariat of Foreign Relations, and the Secretariat for Social Development implement rapid and concrete actions to resolve
the crisis. The CNDH urged the Peña Nieto administration to materially aid the shelters, provide health care, and offer
psychological services to the newcomers on the border. On the diplomatic front the federal agency called for the Secretariat
of Foreign Relations “to reach agreements with U.S. authorities so there is a focus of shared responsibility,”
aimed at accelerating the reception of asylum applicants so waiting times are reduced and migrants receive “adequate
Baja California Governor Francisco Vega de la Madrid sounded a similar
note, saying he requested in a recent meeting with Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu that the Peña
Nieto administration ask Washington to speed up the border processing of asylum applicants. According to Vega, Ruiz Massieu
replied that she would bring up the matter in an upcoming meeting with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
Baja California crisis took shape last May, when Haitians who had found refuge in Brazil in the wake of the catastrophic 2010
earthquake in their own nation began heading north after political and economic conditions soured in the South American nation.
Some of the Haitians reportedly had worked on constructing the infrastructure for the World Soccer Cup and the polemical 2016
Olympics in Brazil.
Since last spring, an estimated 13,000 Haitians and other foreign nationals have arrived
in Baja California, with varying estimates of anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 more on the way. Paying thousands of dollars
to traffickers, many of the new migrants enter Mexico via the port of entry at Tapachula, Chiapas, on the country’s
southern border with Guatemala. Mexican immigration officials grant the migrants 20-day permits to remain in the country as
they travel north in their mission of seeking admission into the United States.
Similar to the experiences
of Central Americans, reports of the new migrants suffering robberies, extortion, rape and death in Mexico are surfacing.
While Mexico has shown generosity, black migrants in particular have also encountered racism, xenophobia and instances of
sexual harassment, Metelus lamented.
Although all the new migrants in Baja California face difficult prospects,
the situation of the Haitians is especially pressing, both because of their preponderant numbers and a new crisis in their
homeland. On September 22, the Obama Administration discontinued a program that granted temporary stays to Haitians
because of the 2010 earthquake. The administration announced it would expedite the removal of Haitians without the proper
In justifying the decision, Secretary Johnson said the overall situation in Haiti had
“improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis.” Two
weeks later, Hurricane Matthew struck the Caribbean island nation, leaving hundreds dead and a new swath of devastation in
an already environmentally and economically challenged entity. Haiti’s national election, scheduled for October 9, was
indefinitely postponed and three days of national mourning declared.
“How will Haiti receive us as deportees?”
Haitian migrant Wilfred Jean-Luis was quoted in Tijuana. “They are not in any condition to do so.”
a harbinger of things to come, Matthew displayed the power of a hurricane strengthened by a warming ocean that scientists
say will become a more frequent occurrence in an age of climate change. Predictions are that more Haitians will have no choice
but to flee their homeland.
The September 22, U.S. policy change prompted criticism from Haitian migrant advocates.
“Once again the administration has decided to criminalize migrants seeking sanctuary, refuge and opportunity in the
U.S., said Opal Tometti, executive director of the U.S.-based Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
an October 7 statement, President Barack Obama affirmed U.S. officials would carefully monitor conditions in Haiti but he
did not indicate whether last month’s discontinuance of the temporary stay policy would be reversed. Meanwhile, Central
Americans, who also cope with issues of violence and environmental degradation in their own nations, continue trekking across
Mexico for the U.S. in large numbers.
Observers have noticed some shifts in the northern migrant route in
Mexico away from the state of Tamaulipas, infamous for the 2010 San Fernando Massacre of 72 migrants and other atrocities,
to the state of Chihuahua.
Juliana Galvan, a member of an evangelical Christian church in Chihuahua City, said
more Central American migrants are looking for food and supplies than last year, with the size of groups increasing from about
ten persons to 30 or 45. As always, the Central Americans risk life and limb to reach the U.S. border.
October 2, a Guatemalan woman was run over and killed by a motor vehicle as she attempted to cross the Rio Grande with her
two children in Ciudad Juarez. The children, 12 and 14 years of age, were placed in an Integral Family Development shelter
in Juarez, where the girl was reported recovering from injuries inflicted by the vehicle. The family had reportedly paid a
smuggler $7,000 to reach the United States.
In Baja California it remains to be seen if the new migrants/refugees
will make a permanent economic, linguistic and cultural mark on the landscape, winding up like other migrants before them
from the interior of Mexico or farther south who arrive to the border with the dream of entering the United States but remain
in Mexico. Already, some restaurants in Tijuana are modifying their menus to include Haitian-style rice and chicken.
are emerging of some migrants obtaining work in the construction and services sector. Leveque Charles said he found a job
that pays up to 350 pesos a day moving boxes in a market. The Haitian migrant said he and his compatriots expected to be in
Tijuana for a short time, but in the meantime they “need money to survive.”
With more migrants headed
to the border, the Baja California crisis smolders as one more regional expression of what Amnesty International calls the
greatest migrant/refugee crisis across the globe since the end of the Second World War.
El Sol de Tijuana, October 7, 8, 9, 10, 2016. Articles by Yolanda Caballero Jacobo and
Daniel Angel Rubio. NPR, October 5 and 9, 2016. El Diario de Juarez/El Universal, October
8, 2016. Associated Press, October 7, 2016. Proceso/Apro, October 3 and 6, 2016. Articles
by Mathieu Tourliere and editorial staff. La Jornada, September 30, 2016; October 6, 8 and 9, 2016. Articles by Antonio Heras,
Blanca Juarez, Notimex and DPA. Nortedigital.net, October 6, 2016. Article by Miguel Vargas. El Diario de Chihuahua, October
2, 2016. Lapolaka.com, October 2, 2016. New York Times, September 22 and 30, 2016. Articles by Kirk Semple.
with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source; translation FNS. Frontera NorteSur (FNS), Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico