Tijuana Residents Grow Irritated By Influx Of Central American Migrants

Nov 28, 2018
Originally published on November 28, 2018 8:45 pm

In Tijuana, Mexico, patience is wearing thin.

It is wearing thin for the thousands of Central American migrants camped out in Tijuana next to the U.S. border, and for the city's residents, some of whom are demanding those migrants be sent home. And indeed a growing number are returning, discouraged by the bleak prospects for meeting their goal of entering the United States and asking for asylum.

49-year-old Blanca Isabel Robledo knows what it's like to be a migrant. Fourteen years ago she and her family moved from Mexico's southern border in Chiapas up to Tijuana, which hugs its northern border. But she's had it with the recently arrived Central Americans, some of whom tried to breach the U.S. border on Sunday.

"I don't want them to stay," she says in Spanish, "because they're rebellious, they're people who've only come to create conflict."

That sentiment is shared by another Tijuana resident, 48-year-old Lucia Barrio who says it is better to send them back to where they came from, "because they brought children with them, and those children are suffering."

Barroso lives next to the big sports arena along the U.S. border that's become a squalid campground for nearly six thousand migrants. Parents in the neighborhood are so disturbed by these newcomers that they locked up and shut down a nearby elementary school yesterday.

Some of the migrants who have agreed to return to their home countries were loading onto a van for a free ride home. 30-year-old Almegadalfo Gutierrez Rodriguez from Honduras was one of them.

He says he he figures the best thing is to go home. He tried breaking into the U.S. on Sunday with hundreds of other migrants, some of them small children, but U.S. Border Patrol agents turned them away, firing tear gas into Mexico.

Mexico has offered to consider asylum claims. Francesca Fontanini, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, says Sunday's commotion seems to have piqued interest among the migrants in taking up Mexico's offer. "Yesterday we observed the increase, an increase of asylum requests," she said. "About 47 asylum claims has been submitted to the COMAR, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid, when last week the average was between 15-20 per day. "

Late yesterday, some of the migrants held a news conference that began with a Mexican ranchera band lamenting the plight of the migrants:

"No nos queda otro caminos que ser peregrinos y buscar destino en otro lugar," the band sang. "We have no option other than to be pilgrims and look for destiny in another place."

A Honduran woman named Mirna Contreras sought to explain that the border melee on Sunday has had a big impact on the migrants' morale. "We were like sheep without a shepherd at the border," she says, "but we never started the violence. The violence came from the other side, from those who teargassed us."

Still, Tijuana municipal delegate Genaro Lopez says his city's been shaken. "We're not scared of migrants," he said. "We're scared of big, migrant caravans getting illegally into our country, ending all the way up here. We don't understand why they are here."

He admitted that feeding the migrants and giving them shelter may encourage others to come to Tijuana, but said it would be worse to have them roaming the streets.

The two meals a day the migrants have been getting will be reduced to one next week, he adds, unless a new Mexican government taking office Saturday comes through with more help.

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Some residents of Tijuana have a demand for migrants at the nearby U.S. border. Their demand is for the migrants to go home. Several-thousand Central Americans are stuck in Mexico applying for legal asylum in the United States, and Mexicans do not want to host them. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Forty-nine-year-old Blanca Isabel Robledo knows what it's like to be a migrant. Fourteen years ago, she and her family moved from Mexico's southern border in Chiapas up to Tijuana, which hugs its northern border. But she's had it with the recently arrived Central Americans, some of whom tried to breach the U.S. border on Sunday.

BLANCA ISABEL ROBLEDO: (Speaking Spanish).

WELNA: "I don't want them to stay," she says, "because they're rebellious. They're people who've only come to create conflict." That sentiment's shared by another Tijuana resident, 48-year-old Lucia Barrio (ph).

LUCIA BARRIO: (Speaking Spanish).

WELNA: "I'd say it's better to send them back to where they came from," she says, "because they brought children with them, and those children are suffering." Barroso (ph) lives next to the big sports arena along the U.S. border that's become a squalid campground for nearly 6,000 migrants. Parents in the neighborhood are so disturbed by these newcomers that they locked up and shut down a nearby elementary school yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF VAN DOOR SHUTTING)

WELNA: An official with Mexico's National Migration Institute shuts the door of a van loaded with young men. They're being given a free trip back to their home countries. A 30-year-old Honduran, Almegadalfo Gutierrez Rodriguez, is one of them.

ALMEGADALFO GUTIERREZ RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

WELNA: He tells me he figures the best thing is to go home. He tried breaking into the U.S. on Sunday with hundreds of other migrants, some of them small children, but U.S. Border Patrol agents turned them away, firing tear gas into Mexico. Mexico has offered to consider asylum claims, and Francesca Fontanini, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, says Sunday's commotion seems to have piqued interest among migrants in taking up Mexico's offer.

FRANCESCA FONTANINI: Yesterday we observed an increase, an increase of asylum requests. I mean, about 47 asylum claims have been submitted today to COMAR, the Mexican commission for refugee aid, when the last week, the average was between 15, 20 per day.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

WELNA: Late yesterday, some of the migrants held a news conference that began with a Mexican ranchera lamenting the plight of the migrants. A Honduran named Mirna Contreras sought to explain the border melee on Sunday that's had a big impact on the migrants' morale.

MIRNA CONTRERAS: (Speaking Spanish).

WELNA: "We were like sheep without a shepherd at the border," she says, "but we never started the violence. The violence came from the other side from those who teargassed us." Still, Tijuana municipal delegate Genaro Lopez says his city's been shaken.

GENARO LOPEZ: We're not scared of migrants. We're scared of big migrant caravans getting illegally into our country, ending all the way up here. We don't understand why they're here.

WELNA: But doesn't feeding them, giving them shelter here, in a way encourage others to come up here, too?

LOPEZ: Yeah. That's what people say. But it would be worse to having them roaming the streets.

WELNA: Lopez says Tijuana's been left footing the bill for putting up these caravans. The two meals a day the migrants have been getting will be reduced to one next week, he adds, unless a new government taking office in Mexico on Saturday comes through with more help.

David Welna, NPR News, Tijuana, Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.