Rain brings flooding and foul sewage backup to migrant shelter near border

An employee at the Juventud 2000 shelter in the Zona Norte neighborhood in Tijuana shows  where raw sewage flowed in to the shelter during the morning rains on Monday.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Heavy rainfall made the difficult living conditions for migrants staying at a shelter close to the U.S.-Mexico border even harder Monday with flooding and foul sewage backups.

Migrants staying at Movimiento Juventud 2000 shelter in Tijuana woke up Monday morning to the putrid mess of water flooding in the kitchen and the bathrooms inoperable because of a severe sewage backup.

“The stench burns your nostrils and makes you want to puke,” said Antonio Jaramillo, a Mexican migrant who is in Tijuana after being deported from the United States.


Jaramillo said though he worries about the health of the kids staying in the shelter, he said the issue is pretty common throughout shelters and other lower-income residences in northern Tijuana.

“I’m pretty sure this happens every time it rains with the black water,” said Jaramillo. “Even in the other shelters, they struggle with this same issue.”

Shelter director José María García Lara said Monday that he was unable to draw the attention of the public water authorities until there had been news coverage.

Earlier in the morning, García initially said they might have to move everyone out of the shelter, but they managed to cover the backup of sewage by mid-morning enough to allow people to stay in the shelter, which is located just blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border.

People would have to use the restrooms somewhere else, though, throughout the day, he said, until the city repaired the sewer systems.

“There are many children here and many women, as well, and we have no drainage,” said García.


“It is a problem that has not been resolved since yesterday. They answered us today, this morning, thanks to many of you,” he said, referring to members of the media.

The Baja California Public Service Commission, or CESPT, the state’s water commission, released a statement on Monday evening.

“Due to the heavy rains that have occurred since this morning in the city, the state commission of public services of Tijuana is working to meet the various reports of saturation in the domestic drainage network that is outside Movimiento Juventud 2000 shelter located in Zona Norte of Tijuana where staff of the agency went out this afternoon to carry out work to resolve the issue,” their statement read in part.

“It is important to mention that the age of the drainage system as well as the capacity for which it was built together with the amount of waste being generated is generating the aforementioned situation,” the agency said.

The shelter currently has about 107 people staying inside in separate tents erected in a large indoor space. Right now, it serves mostly Mexican nationals, including those who have recently been deported from the United States.

Women and children worked to sop up water in the kitchen Monday morning, as another man stationed near the door kept rainwater from coming inside.


In the back of the shelter, another man closely monitored the open sewage drain, covered for now with a piece of plywood. The raw sewage was sitting just about an inch below ground level.

He said he planned to keep a close eye on it to alert the director if it got any closer to overflowing onto the main floor where migrants are staying in tents just feet away from the drain.

The situation was vaguely reminiscent of last winter’s disastrous rains that soaked the temporary migrant shelter set-up for Central Americans at the Benito Juárez sports complex, which is located a few blocks from Movimiento Juventud 2000.

A woman from Michoacán said government officials have paid so much attention to addressing the issue of Central American migration that they’ve ignored their own countrymen.

“We are migrants and we are very badly treated, very unfairly. We are receiving less resources than they are,” said María González, who said she fled violence in Michoacán.

A federally run shelter with a capacity of housing 3,000 migrants just opened a few weeks ago in Tijuana’s central Cerro Colorado borough. However, that shelter is specifically aimed at serving Central Americans returned to Mexico under the Trump administration’s controversial Remain in Mexico, or “MPP,” program.


Migrants gathered outside Movimiento Juventud 2000 covered in trash bags Monday, preparing to march to City Hall to protest conditions and problems they’ve been having with police in Zona Norte, near the border.

The rainfall caused problems in other areas of the city, as well.

The director of Municipal Transportation reported flooded roads on Vía Rápida Poniente between Manuel Márquez de León and General Abelardo L. Rodríguez boulevard, in one of the city’s major thoroughfares.

A sewage drain near Díaz Ordaz Boulevard also began flooding onto the road.

The secretary for public safety reminded drivers to use caution and not drive through standing water on flooded roadways and intersections, if they aren’t positive how deep it is.

A city spokeswoman said between a half-inch and 1 inch of rain was expected through Tuesday.

Fry writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.