Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum declared a humanitarian crisis on Friday as 5,000 migrants arrived in his city.
Gastelum has asked the United Nations to provide help in dealing with the caravan of Central American migrants who arrived over the past few days. The migrants have made their way from their home countries to the U.S.-Mexican border in their quest to seek asylum in the United States. Gastelum said most of the people are currently camped out inside a Tijuana sports complex.
City officials and volunteers are working hand in hand to help out the 5,000 men, women and children in the so-called “caravan” which spent more than a month traveling.
Donald Trump and members of his administration have been attacking the caravan for weeks. The president has tweeted (with no evidence) that it is filled with criminals, gang members and even terrorists. He also wrote:
“The Mayor of Tijuana, Mexico, just stated that “the City is ill-prepared to handle this many migrants, the backlog could last 6 months.” Likewise, the U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!”
The Mayor of Tijuana, Mexico, just stated that “the City is ill-prepared to handle this many migrants, the backlog could last 6 months.” Likewise, the U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2018
The head of Tijuana’s social services department, Manuel Figueroa, said his agency has brought in portable toilets and showers, along with shampoo, soap and other incidental necessities for the large group of penniless travelers.
But Figueroa said what they are doing is probably not going to be enough.
“Because of the absence, the apathy and the abandonment of the federal government, we are having to turn to international institutions like the United Nations,” a frustrated Figueroa said.
One Tijuana resident who has been volunteering at the sports stadium where the migrants are camped said Mexico’s federal government ignored the problem by allowing the caravan to cross the country. Rene Vazquez, age 60, said the government should have stopped it. Now that they have arrived in the city, however, it is stuck with dealing with them and taking care of them.
“I don’t have anything against the migrants, they were the most deceived, but this is affecting us all,” Vazquez lamented.
Mayor Gastelum has vowed not to commit the Tijuana’s municipal resources to dealing with the migrant situation. His government issued a statement on Thursday which said that they are in the process of asking for assistance from the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“They have categorically omitted and not complied with their legal obligations,” Gastelum said at a press conference. “So we’re now asking them and international humanitarian aid groups to bring in and carry out humanitarian assistance.”
Vazquez said the government of Mexico should step up now and process humanitarian visas for the group so they can look for employment and earn money to support themselves . He coaches a soccer team which can no longer practice at the sports complex, he said. Instead of doing his job he is spending his time passing out donated food to the migrants.
The caravan of refugee seekers left Honduras in mid-October. Along the way they were mostly treated well by the towns they passed through. Reporters who talked to caravan members said that even the cities and towns without resources gave the travelers food and a place to rest.
But the caravan stayed just one or two nights in those towns. In Tijuana, the migrants face the prospect of spending months in the border city before even talking to U.S. immigration officials about seeking asylum.
Gastelum said on Friday that the Mexican government may deliver 20 tons of resources to his city to help out. But he said that most of what they are sending is material to reinforce the border. Just five tons of what the government is sending will help the migrants.
Right now the temporary shelter in Tijuana is more than full. Before the mayor declared a humanitarian crisis, Edgar Corzo Sosa, Mexico’s national director of human rights, said that he “would describe the conditions inside as still manageable and somewhat in order.” But that may have changed as now he admits that the temporary shelter is already far over capacity.
“If more people arrive, it’s just impractical to shelter more people here,” Sosa said. “The shelter is going to be overcome.”
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.