Tijuana, Baja California — Nearly a year after a giant caravan of Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana intent on crossing into the United States, some have opted instead to settle down in this border city where there is ample work and cheap apartments.
Gerson Paredes, a 20-year-old Honduran, arrived in Tijuana in November with around 6,000 migrants, mostly from Central America. He stayed at the Benito Juárez makeshift shelter on the baseball fields until flooding rains destroyed tents and sleeping gear, forcing him to move.
Then, he relocated to El Barretal, a federally-run shelter on the eastern side of Tijuana. There, he made friends, connected with a job fair and immediately started working odd jobs in construction.
“At first, things were very, very difficult when we arrived. There were so many problems. It was very tense,” said Paredes. “But, right now, no. We’re good here.”
Today, Paredes has a steady, eight-hour a day job helping build factories in the far southeastern outskirts of Tijuana. He and two other of his friends rent an apartment close to Barretal for 1,500 pesos a month, or about $75.
He gets an hour lunch break and goes out with friends to Las Pulgas, a popular dance club, on the weekends.
“I like Tijuana,” said Paredes. “The work here is good. They treat us well and pay us well. I’m still hoping to go to the United States some day, but for now, I’m good here.”
Paredes said he’s paid about 2,000 pesos or $100 a week for five eight-hour shifts, but he often opts to work doubles so he can send home money to his family in Honduras.
Jesus Alejandro Ruiz Uribe, the federal delegate in Baja California, who works as a liaison between the president and the local government on migrant issues, said many Central Americans have been issued work permits and are quickly joining the Baja California economy.
“The majority of migrants want to work and we have work here,” said Ruiz, adding that Tijuana has a long history of providing good jobs to people who come from all over the world. “This is the ‘city of migrants.'”
But Paredes and his friends may be among the lucky few who have been able to find steady work and build a life in Tijuana.
Numbers show only a small percentage of migrants who are waiting in Baja California under the Remain in Mexico policy are employed.
Under the new Remain in Mexico policy, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, migrants were promised jobs and shelter while they wait in Mexico for their U.S. asylum hearings. Before, they would have waited in the United States for their immigration proceedings.
In Tijuana, there are close to 12,000 U.S. asylum seekers. Ruiz said the federal government has issued 2,000 special registration codes, called CURPs, to migrants who need to work. The CURP is a required document, like a work visa, that migrants need to present to an employer to complete the hiring process.
According to information from the Labor Secretary of Baja California, only 700 migrants are working in the state.
Ruiz said Thursday the effort to help migrants find employment is accelerating. He said he is meeting with leaders in the maquiladora industry, factories in Mexico run by foreign countries that export their products, who have already given jobs to many migrants.
“All migrants who are returned are eligible to work. The maquiladoras already have a lot of people working there and we’re giving out 100 to 130 CURPs every day,” said Ruiz.
Because some find informal work, such as in unofficial construction jobs like Paredes did when he first arrived, the numbers may not reflect the entire scope of how many migrants have been able to make a living in Tijuana.
Pastor Albert Rivera, who runs the Agape Misión Mundial shelter in Tijuana, said every day trucks looking for able-bodied men drive past his shelter, picking up migrants for day labor.
“I’d say at least 40 percent of the migrants I have staying here get up and go to work every single day. Only the ones with young children stay behind. They (employers) come by in trucks and say ‘Get in!'” said Rivera.
Some Tijuana factory owners said they are eager to put migrants to work, but because of strict government regulations, there have been delays filling their vacancies.
Salvador Diaz, the president of the Otay Mesa Industrial Association, an umbrella organization for Tijuana factories, said they’ve been promised the federal government is going to start issuing work visas and CURPs more quickly, so factories can put more migrants to work.
Diaz said he hopes a migrant shelter opens in Tijuana, so people returned from the United States can have a central location to connect with services and employers can connect with them to find workers.
“We’re ready to employ them as soon as they have those papers,” said Diaz.
Ruiz said a large migrant shelter with a capacity for 5,000 people is scheduled to open in September, but it’s a promise the government has made before and delayed.
Paredes, who has been able to find multiple construction jobs in Tijuana, said it bothers him when he hears people say Hondurans want to be dependent on the government, either in the United States or Mexico.
“We’re just waiting for an opportunity,” said Paredes, resting in the shade after hours sanding a curb in 80-degree weather.
His co-worker and roommate, José Trullio, a 30-year-old from Honduras, said he was surprised by how much work he’s been able to find in Tijuana.
“For us, working is the way we are valued,” said Trullio. “What you need to understand is for us, working is life.”
Trullio said he had similar jobs in construction in Honduras, but at times he went hungry because the pay is not as good.
“You can work for the entire week and only be able to afford one chicken to eat for the week,” he said. “And if you can’t afford it, then you go hungry.”
Trullio and Paredes both said they know the work pays better in the United States, which is why they want the opportunity to cross the border.
“For now, as long as there is work here, Tijuana is okay too,” said Paredes.
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