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Migrants in Tijuana weigh options after court blocks Trump’s asylum ban for illegal border crossers

Migrants in Tijuana weigh options after court blocks Trump’s asylum ban for illegal border crossers
Honduran Jorge Sevilla, 20,checks his phone at Playas Tijuana along the U.S. - Mexico border in Tijuana. Sevilla is not sure if he will seek political asylum or cross illegally into San Diego. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Migrants camped in Tijuana after traveling in a caravan to reach the U.S were weighing their options Tuesday after a U.S. court blocked President Donald Trump’s asylum ban for illegal border crossers.

Many said they have no intention of breaking the law, but were feeling pressure after anti-migrant protests in this Mexican border city amid claims by Trump and the Tijuana mayor that the caravan harbors gang members and criminals, something they strongly deny.

Members of the migrant caravan bath with the border fence in the background at the Benito Juarez Sports Center – one block from the border. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A young girl with the migrant caravan combs her hair at the Benito Juarez Sports Center. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Members of the migrant caravan, who are staying at the Benito Juarez Sports Center, hang out in the Zona Norte neighborhood in Tijuana. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The border wall is fortified with concertina wire at Playas Tijuana along the U.S. - Mexico border in Tijuana. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Clockwise from top left; ;embers of the migrant caravan bath with the border fence in the background at the Benito Juarez Sports Center – one block from the border; a young girl with the migrant caravan combs her hair at the Benito Juarez Sports Center; the border wall is fortified with concertina wire at Playas Tijuana along the U.S. - Mexico border in Tijuana; members of the migrant caravan, who are staying at the Benito Juarez Sports Center, hang out in the Zona Norte neighborhood in Tijuana. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Herson Cordonez, a 29-year-old Honduran, said the actions of a few migrants were tainting the image of the 4,000 to 6,000 in the caravan, not all of whom have yet reached Tijuana. “We are not criminals, we are migrant workers,” Cordonez said, adding that he was considering trying to get into Canada if the U.S. doesn’t want him.

Tijuana officials said late Monday they had arrested 34 caravan members for drug possession, public intoxication, disturbing the peace and resisting police, and they would be deported to their home countries.

Fortified

3065613_ME_border_caravan_GXC
The border wall is fortified with concertina wire at Playas Tijuana along the U.S. - Mexico border in Tijuana. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times

Confrontation

Caravan arrives in Tijuana
Protesters clash with police guarding a sports facility in Tijuana where more than 2,000 Central immigrants are sheltered. Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

This city of migrants has turned on the caravan of thousands of Central American migrants that has roiled the border town.

“This is an invasion!” shouted Luis Alexis Mendoza, 30, a bespectacled carpenter who was among scores of protesting Tijuana residents staging an anti-caravan demonstration Sunday that culminated in a standoff with riot police on the street where more than 2,000 Central Americans were being housed in a sports facility. “We demand respect! We demand that our laws be followed.”

He and others denounced caravan members — mostly Honduran nationals — as “criminals,” “bums,” and “freeloaders,” among other negative characterizations used to describe the Central Americans.

New arrivals

Tijuana authorities talk with members of the Central American immigrant caravan arriving at the Benito Juarez Sports Center. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A busload of Central American migrants arrives at the Benito Juarez Sports Center. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Left, Tijuana authorities talk with members of the Central American immigrant caravan arriving at the Benito Juarez Sports Center. Right, a busload of Central American migrants arrives at the Benito Juarez Sports Center. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Protesters sang the Mexican national anthem and waved Mexican flags in a loud display of nationalism and anti-caravan sentiment.A march by protesters through downtown took on the character of a mob as angry demonstrators tried to storm the sports facility housing caravan participants, who began arriving last week in Tijuana after a month on the road.

Word that angry Mexican protesters were approaching the sports complex sent many migrants running back inside. Fear and uncertainty reverberated in the sports facility.

“We feel trapped,” said Jose Antonio Paz, 32, who traveled from the city of El Progreso, Honduras, with his wife and four daughters. “People came after us with rocks. How can we defend ourselves?”

Protests and arrest

Hundreds of protesters march through downtown Tijuana demanding an end to the Central American migrant caravans passing through Mexico. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds of protesters march through downtown Tijuana demanding an end to the Central American migrant caravans passing through Mexico. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Tijuana police arrest a Mexican man accused of starting a fight with a Central American immigrant outside the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Top and left; Hundreds of protesters march through downtown Tijuana demanding an end to the Central American migrant caravans passing through Mexico. Right, Tijuana police arrest a Mexican man accused of starting a fight with a Central American immigrant outside the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Police wearing helmets and carrying plastic shields rebuffed the demonstrators’ efforts to rush the sports facility.

No injuries were reported in scuffles between police and protesters, who lingered for hours outside the concrete barricades sealing entrances to the makeshift shelter.

But the episode highlighted the stunning hostility that the caravan has encountered in a city of 1.6 million that has long been a way station for U.S.-bound migrants — mostly from Mexico but multitudes from Central America as well.

IMPERIAL BEACH, CALIF. . - NOV. 167 2018. A Border Patrol officer stands watch near the border wall
A Border Patrol officer stands watch near the border wall where it runs into the Pacific Ocean at Imperial Beach. Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

TIJUANA, MEXICO .. - NOV. 14, 2018. Immigrants who are part of the caravan that has made its way fr
Immigrants who are part of a migrant caravan that has made its way from Honduras swarm around a man handing out food outside the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana. Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

After traveling nearly 3,000 miles, enduring sweltering heat, tropical downpours, chilly evenings and endless stretches of mountains and desert during more than a month on the road, Ana Lidia Cruz acknowledged being somewhat deflated upon her arrival to this sprawling border city.

“Everywhere in Mexico, people treated us so nicely — they gave us food, water, places to stay,” said Cruz, 38, who was seated beneath a metal sculpture of dolphins in the seaside Playas de Tijuana district. “But here, they don’t seem to want us. We’re all tired, and a bit disillusioned.”

She and her two children, Honduran citizens, are among the members of the migrant caravan that drew the ire of President Trump and became an incendiary issue in the run-up to the U.S. midterm election.

Food and shelter

Immigrants who are part of the caravan that has made its way from Honduras seek shelter at the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Mariachi musicians play for Immigrants arriving by bus at the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A man distributes food outside the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
About 1,500 people from the migrant caravan traveling across Mexico have arrived in Tijuana. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Clockwise from top left; immigrants who are part of the caravan that has made its way from Honduras seek shelter at the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana; Mariachi musicians play for Immigrants arriving by bus at the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana; about 1,500 people from the migrant caravan traveling across Mexico have arrived in Tijuana; a man distributes food outside the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In recent days, hundreds of caravan members — including Cruz and her two children, 12 and 14 — have been arriving in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego. Thousands more are expected to arrive here later Thursday and through the weekend.

They have received something less than a warm welcome in a city that has long been a byway for northbound migrants — and a place where most residents have origins elsewhere in Mexico.

TIJUANA, MEXICO .. - NOV. 14, 2018. Immigrants who are part of the caravan that has made its way fr
Hondurans, who were part of the migrant caravan, wait for shelter outside the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana. Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

“I understand that many people here in Tijuana are nervous about us, but we didn’t come here to cause any problems,” said Edy Rivera, 37, a farmer from Honduras who said he hoped to find work in the United States and send money home to his wife and three children. “We are just passing through. We plan to get in line at the border and present ourselves legally. Hopefully, the American president will find it in his heart to let us in.”

Visible presence

IMPERIAL BEACH, CALIF.. - NOV. 14, 2018. U.S. Botder Patrol officers patrol on horseback near the b
U.S. Border Patrol officers patrol on horseback near the border wall in Imperial Beach. Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Later in the day, as buses filled with caravan participants continued to arrive, migrants camped on the sidewalk outside the sports center. A mariachi band serenaded the growing crowd, bringing cries of “Viva Mexico!” from the Central Americans, many of whom sang along.

Many of the mariachi ballads were standards about the perils and pitfalls of migrants crossing the border.

TIJUANA, MEXICO .. - NOV. 14, 2018. Immigrants who are part of the caravan that has made its way fr
A Honduran woman eats a hot meal outside the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana. Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

lee.sinco@latimes.com

Twitter: @luissinco

gary.coronado@latimes.com

Twitter: @gary_coronado

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