Carrying blankets and backpacks, a group of 356 Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana on Tuesday, joining dozens of other arrivals from a large caravan that has been making its way to the U.S. border.
But even as authorities scrambled to find bed space for them in the city’s migrant shelters, Baja California officials reported that yet another group numbering about 200 was aboard buses traveling through the neighboring state of Sonora and expected to arrive in Tijuana within hours.
The migrants, most of them from Honduras, are among thousands of Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence who are currently making their way to the U.S. border in caravans that give them protection from criminal gangs and corrupt officials as they cross Mexico. Many have said they hope to turn themselves over to U.S. authorities at ports of entry and ask for asylum.
“We hope that [President] Trump sees our tranquility, and sees the needs that we have,” said Mario Gonzalez Soriano, a 42-year-old subsistence farmer and evangelical pastor from Honduras who left behind his four children and pregnant wife. “We want to give our families a better life, and for that reason, we risk even death.”
The buses delivered the caravan members to the Desayunador Padre Chava, a Catholic-run soup kitchen near the U.S. border. From there, many walked to Playas de Tijuana, getting their first look at the U.S. border fence.
As U.S. Border Patrol agents watched, some of the youngest and most agile climbed tall bollards that form the first part of the barrier, a couple of them briefly dropping down on the U.S. side before climbing back to Mexico.
Most just stood in the sand, some playing in the waves, others getting a first look at the country they have traveled thousands of miles with hopes of entering.
“It’s everybody’s dream, everybody wants to live in America,” said a 42-year-old Honduran migrant who gave only his first name, Yarle. He lived in the United States for 32 years, but was deported three years ago, and has been surviving in El Progreso, Honduras, as a bilingual teacher.
Trump has been harshly critical of the caravans, and has sent troops to the border in anticipation of the arrival of the migrants. He has ordered that anyone caught crossing illegally be barred from even applying for asylum.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that on Tuesday it would be closing three lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and one at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry to install “port hardening infrastructure equipment.” The move was in “preparation for the migrant caravan and the potential safety and security risk that it could cause,” a statement said.
Late Tuesday, at Playas de Tijuana, U.S. authorities were seen installing new layers of mesh fencing on the beach.
Tuesday’s group, whose members arrived in nine buses, was mostly comprised of men, but included 36 women and 12 children, according to a tally by the Tijuana city government. They had been offered transportation from Guadalajara, and split off from the larger group that is continuing to make its way to the U.S. border, and late Tuesday were making their way through the state of Nayarit, hundreds of miles away.
Shortly after arriving Tuesday morning, members of the group swarmed the Desayunador Padre Chava, a Catholic-run soup kitchen that offered them a meal. The plan was to spread them out in several shelters run by church groups or civic organizations, said Cesar Palencia, the city’s director of migrant services.
Shelter capacity in the city is about 1,400, he said. But many shelters currently are over capacity, especially those serving women and children, as growing numbers of Mexicans and Central Americans have come to Tijuana in recent months with plans to seek asylum in the United States.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have said they are unable to keep up with the large volume of asylum seekers, and as a result prospective applicants must wait for several weeks before they are even admitted for processing. The migrants themselves maintain a notebook with a waiting list, which in recent weeks has grown to 2,500.
The arrival of the caravan members has been stirring anxiety of those already on the list. “If they come and start making problems, they might close the border and then nobody will be able to cross,” said Arlette Alvarez, 32, who came to Tijuana from the southern Mexican state of Michoacan with her three children five weeks ago.
Erika Pinheiro, an attorney with the group Al Otro Lado, said the list itself is “of questionable legality” and added, “if they really cared about addressing this, they wouldn’t be deploying military, they’d be deploying asylum officers to the border.”
Dibble and Solis write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.