With a small group of Central American caravan members already in Tijuana, thousands of others continued their push to the U.S. border on Monday, as shelters, church leaders and government authorities in Baja California braced for their arrival.
While much of the caravan remained more than 1,500 miles from Tijuana in the western city of Guadalajara, about nine buses carrying some 300 caravan members were reported on Monday evening to be passing with police escort through Hermosillo, capital of the northern state of Sonora — fewer than 200 miles from the border city of Nogales and 540 miles from Tijuana. A video posted on a local news website showed a Honduran flag flapping from the window of one bus.
In Tijuana, a contingent of about 80 caravan participants — members of the LGBT, (lesbian gay, bisexual, and transgender) community — settled in for their second day in Tijuana at a house rented out for them by supporters in a well-to-do neighborhood near the U.S. border. They had peeled off from the main caravan after being offered bus transportation and accommodations.
Like other members of the caravan, several said they are fleeing poverty and violence, but that they were also under extreme threat because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Going back would put me at risk,” said Nelsi Teresa Ponce, 27, a trans woman who fled Comayagua, Honduras, where she was studying law. “Back there, we are not welcome, we could not leave our houses.”
Francisco Rueda Gomez, Baja California’s secretary-general, said that the arrival of the large group could be days or weeks away. As of Monday, no decision had been made as to where they would be housed. Space in shelters operated by church and civic groups in Tijuana and Mexicali is limited in the state to 1,600 spaces, he said, and some already are filled to capacity.
Rueda was interviewed by phone from Mexico City where he had been participating in a meeting called by Mexico’s Interior Ministry to coordinate efforts on the caravan; other attendees included representatives of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry, international aid groups and city officials from Tijuana and Mexicali. Gov. Francisco Vega de Lamadrid is expected to travel there on Wednesday for a follow-up meeting Mexico’s interior minister, Alfonso Navarrete Prida.
“It is very important that the federal government assume its share of responsibility,” the governor told reporters in Tijuana on Monday.
Rueda said the state of Baja California is asking the federal government to contribute 80 million pesos, about $4 million, to pay for shelter, food, health care, and humanitarian assistance to caravan members while they are in Baja California.
On Monday morning, at a bare-bones shelter in the city’s Zona Norte known as Juventud 2000, Lourdes Lizardi Lopez, a member of Angeles Sin Fronteras, also called on the federal government to step up its efforts. “It’s really a shame that Tijuana, an area of migration, doesn’t have a decent shelter, a large shelter, that is operated by the federal government.”
Some 5,000 caravan members, most of them from Honduras, agreed at an assembly in Mexico City last week that they would head to the Tijuana-San Diego border. The plan is for many to turn themselves in at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and ask the U.S. government for asylum.
Meanwhile, authorities said that three smaller caravans of Central Americans in different parts of southern Mexico are also moving north but their ultimate destination remained unclear.
The prospect of large numbers of Central Americans converging in Tijuana has been an issue of growing concern, particularly because they could spend weeks or even months in the city waiting for U.S. authorities to allow them to petition for asylum.
“Other cities have welcomed them for two or three days, but one can foresee that a good number of them will stay in Tijuana for a long period, until they are permitted access to the process of being investigated” for asylum applications, Tijuana’s Catholic Archdiocese said in a statement Friday.
Rueda said that state and local authorities want Mexico’s federal government to petition U.S. authorities to speed up processing of those who present themselves at the ports of entry.
Just the prospect of the arrival of large numbers of Central Americans already has fueled opposition of some Tijuana residents. A Facebook group, Tijuana en Contra de la Caravana Migrante (Tijuana Against the Migrant Caravan) — counted more than 1,000 members. It calls for deportation of caravan members without legal status in Mexico, a measure necessary “to avoid their causing a collapse of our region.”
In Playas de Tijuana on Monday morning, a buzz of activity surrounded a normally quiet, well-to-do residential street where caravan members have been staying in a house that unidentified supporters have been renting out for them.
Despite the upscale surroundings, several of the occupants said they have been sleeping on the floor without blankets, and had gotten little rest.
Maritza Brigitte Castro Mejia, 23, said she had been treated kindly, and human rights workers had even brought wigs and makeup for transgender residents like herself. “I am very grateful to Mexico, because we’ve received quite a bit of help.”
But group has also been the target of anger from some neighbors, who object to their presence. “Why do they have to come to this completely residential area,” asked Gloria Martinez, who lives across the street. “Why did they have to come here? Just now, I saw one in a bikini taking out the trash.”
Several of those interviewed said that attorneys in the United States and Mexico had paid for their transportation and accommodations, but were not quite who. A Texas-based nonprofit agency, RAICES, that offers low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees, said Monday that raised the funds to purchase 77 bus tickets, pay for four nights at the Airbnb, and send a legal team to Mexico.
Leidi Mejia, 23, who fled her town of 11,000 in eastern Honduras, said her partner back home had been murdered and she had received death threats. She is preparing to ask for political asylum in the United States.
“I know it won’t be easy, but it doesn’t matter how long we must wait,” she said. “I want to live in a country where laws are respected, and where one can live in peace and tranquility.”
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