Sounding an alarm, Tijuana’s mayor said the city has only enough resources to support the Central American migrant caravan for two more days and beyond that, there is no guarantee of support.
“We will decide what to do when we get there,” Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum said during a press conference Tuesday morning.
Gastelum vowed not to divert tax dollars away from city services while asking Mexico’s federal government to send more money and support. The outgoing administration of Enrique Peña Nieto leaves office Friday while incoming President Andrés Manual López Obrador starts Saturday.
“We won’t compromise the resources of the residents of Tijuana,” Gastelum said. “We won’t raise taxes tomorrow to pay for today’s problem.”
Tijuana’s Treasurer, Ricardo Chavarria, said the city spends about 600,000 pesos a day supporting the migrant caravan or roughly $30,000.
Money is tight right now because the city is near the end of the fiscal year and their top priority is not to cut municipal services, Chavarria said.
Baja California officials said Tuesday that there were about 8,000 members of the Central American caravan in the state, roughly 6,800 in Tijuana and 1,200 in Mexicali.
The majority of the caravan members in Tijuana sleep in an outdoor sports complex in the city’s Zona Norte neighborhood. As more migrants arrive daily, space inside the makeshift shelter gets more crowded each day. There are more than 5,800 in the shelter as of Monday night.
Families set up tents anywhere they can find including under a set of bleachers, inside the dugout of a baseball diamond, among flower beds. About 180 more migrants arrived from Mexicali Tuesday evening.
Many migrants are unsure of when they will be able to ask for asylum in the United States, how long they’ll stay in the shelter, or where they’ll sleep if it closes.
Wilmer Pinto, 38, arrived in Tijuana with his wife and three children three days ago. He left Guatemala with $230 and ran out weeks ago. His family lives off the generosity of others, he said.
Pinto, who said he fled Guatemala because gang members threatened to kill him after he refused to pay them an extortion fee, signed his name on a long informal list of people waiting to request asylum in the United States.
People on that list wait more than a month to go into the U.S. and Wilmer does not know what he and his family will do until their name is called.
“There is nothing to do but wait,” he said.
Other migrants aren’t sure how long they’ll be able to stay in Tijuana’s makeshift shelter.
“This is a shelter so the city could ask us to leave at any moment,” said Daniela Lara, 21, of Honduras.
Lara said the migrants’ situation has gotten more hostile since Sunday, when the U.S. shut down the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the nation’s largest border entrance, after about 500 ran to the border.
Some of the migrants tried to enter the border illegally and threw rocks at U.S. Customs and Border Protection while federal law enforcement officers shot non-lethal pepper gas into the crowd.
Lara did not attend the Sunday’s march.
“I’m fleeing from violence so I didn’t want to participate in violence,” she said.
Resources are so tight in Tijuana that Gastelum said the city doesn’t have enough money to pay for extra tarps for the migrants in preparation of this Thursday’s expected rain.
Local officials in Tijuana have identified multiple sites for a second shelter or somewhere the federal government can set up a migration center, but the current administration has not followed through, Gastelum said.
Federal officials from the local branch of the National Institute of Migration declined to speak with reporters without the authorization of supervisors in Mexico City, which they did not have Tuesday morning.
Gastelum said Peña Nieto’s lame duck status should not prevent them from taking immediate action on the migrant caravan.
“The pretext that they are leaving is not an excuse,” he said. “I, as a citizen, want answers from this government that I pay taxes to.”
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