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Report from the Tijuana Border • January 2021

Sharon Franklin

It's a mess in Tijuana, but that's nothing new. Earlier this week Javier said it was freezing cold with high winds and rain all day. In Oregon we envision it one way, but there it is dirty and sloppy and truly miserable...and La Casa has zero insulation, so it's cold inside as well. But he was meeting a family who needed papers and was prepared to take them, wait with them, and help them through the process. I don't think we realize how much the climate is doubly miserable for people coming from southern Mexico or Central America. Even on a semi-balmy day it's freezing cold to them and often they don’t own clothes that are warm enough even for those days.

He's been delivering a lot of food to shelters these days. Last week one shelter was extremely glad to see him, because they were almost completely out of cooking oil. He delivered large quantities of oil along with the food they requested on a shopping list the women who work in the kitchen always make for him. Yesterday (Thursday) he delivered a lot of fruit and vegetables to another shelter.

Last week he had me speak with little Kayla on WhatsApp. She's 11 years old and had severe stomach pain, so he took her and her mother to the clinic and sat with them for hours until Kayla could be seen. She told me that she was scared to go to the doctor, and I said I completely understood, that it is scary, and it's very hard when you don't feel good and want to be well! I assured her that Javier would stay there with her and her mom and make sure she got the help and any medicine she might need. She had stomach worms.

There is no word on when vaccines might be available there. I am hopeful that when health care workers at the clinics in Tijuana are vaccinated that Javier will be too, since he works with so many at-risk people every day. But so far neither he nor I have heard anything.

Javier says he gets about 20 or more phone calls every day now from people asking him what is happening now that Biden has been elected. What will change? When can we cross? Is the border open now? Pobre Javier! I told him he should be provided a direct line to the White House so he could be sure to relay the best, most accurate information. It’s badly needed because rumors run rampant in Tijuana in the absence of reliable information, often with dangerous consequences. He tells them that it will take a little time and that COVID only makes everything more challenging. We talk a lot about this. As much as I would like people who have a number and have waited for more than a year to be able to cross asap, I know that it is complicated to undo what is in place and at the same time to create policies that don’t add more misery and challenges for people once they do cross. My personal feeling is that we need policies that treat people humanely while they are waiting for their court dates in the US (including emergency food and housing assistance if needed, no ankle shackles, medical insurance like immigrants receive, and the ability to work legally while they wait). These things also allow asylum seekers, who have experienced so much trauma, to begin to heal and their children to begin to heal and relax in a new place. It’s a win-win for them and for this country. I also hope, once the guidelines and criteria for gaining asylum are streamlined and easier to follow, that many asylum seekers will not require more than basic legal assistance in getting ready for their court dates. Almost no one now has a prayer of being granted asylum without high-cost legal assistance, because all the rules preventing asylum make every case super complicated and time consuming to argue in court.

Meanwhile, many people waiting in Mexico are getting inaccurate information; e.g., “The border is open now!” Others are just tired of waiting, and who can blame them? But the consequences are very sad. Today I heard about a Guatemalan family of four living in Tijuana who paid a coyote thousands of dollars to “help them cross.” They were apprehended and sent back almost immediately. Now their chances are slim to none that they will be able to cross again legally any time soon. There are too many other groups of people who have been waiting for a long time who will go ahead of them.

I’ve spoken to several families myself who have contacted me about when I think they can cross. Just today (Friday, January 28), I heard from my friend Lucia. She sent me a photo of little Matias. He was just six months old when Javier and I first met her and her seven-year-old daughter in El Chaparral one day after her husband was murdered and she fled, hoping to cross the border. Matias will be two years old in a little over a month.

Lucia is still patiently waiting and hoping to cross with him and her daughter soon and proceed to her sister’s house in the U.S., where they can finally feel safe and begin a new life. Javier and I hope and pray to be able to give Lucia and so many others good news soon.


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