The border in Tijuana is still chaotic and increasingly dangerous for those waiting there. You need look no further than El Chaparral, a block from La Casa de Paso, where about 3,000 people have been camped for over four months now, hoping to be first to cross when the border “opens.” In fact, certain categories of asylum seekers cross every day—some because they are approved for Humanitarian Paroles, others because they are MPPs. Others simply leave El Chaparral because they can no longer stand the abhorrent living conditions. In either case, new arrivals quickly take over the tents they leave behind.
All the portable toilets and showers at El Chaparral were removed by Tijuana authorities a couple weeks ago in an effort to discourage people from staying there. In response, Javier typically brings three groups of moms and kids back to La Casa de Paso every day to use the shower and, if desired, to cook for their children. The women often work together to create a grocery list for him, and he dutifully sets off on his bike to buy the items they request in order to cook! In addition to groups coming in the daytime to shower and eat, in one four-day period two weeks ago, 32 moms and kids (and one dad) spent the night at La Casa de Paso! Many people at El Chaparral are getting sick now, so every day Javier takes sick people to the clinic and buys the prescribed meds for them if they cannot afford to pay. He also buys food for several shelters who call him when they need food.
One mom with two teenage daughters stayed at La Casa for two weeks until they crossed last week! They were so happy! The Humanitarian Parole request for both medical and danger reasons I submitted for them the day before I left Tijuana in mid-May was approved. Such good news! One daughter has a serious heart condition exacerbated by stress, anxiety, and claustrophobia due to hiding in a tent in fear of being found by people who followed them to Tijuana seeking retaliation after the mom reported the person who sexually abused her daughter.
At this point, all 12 requests I submitted have been granted, with two recent ones pending as of last week. Javier and I spent 2.5 hours on the phone with two moms while I completed a Humanitarian Parole request for each of them. It was the first time Javier and I had attempted to do this long distance. I always begin by asking him to apologize for having to ask them to relive such horrific experiences. I also ask that he tell them I am SO SORRY this happened to them. I ask each question and Javier translates it to the mom. She answers and he translates back to me in English any details I didn’t quite understand. When we get to the part describing the reason for the parole request, it takes longer, and I take notes as she talks. The moms often cry, and it’s sometimes hard for Javier and me to keep from crying. When I have enough information, everyone has to wait while I carefully write those paragraphs. Finally, I read it all back, sentence by sentence, with Javier translating back into Spanish. I ask that the mom ultimately affirm “Yes, that’s true” to each sentence.
I do believe things are slowly improving in some ways, and yes, everything is taking longer than we wish and is more complex than most people could ever imagine, with many new people arriving at the border every day. This frustrates many people (including me) who want things to change now for all these asylum seekers who have endured so much. Even allowing all asylum seekers entry into the U.S. would not in itself overwhelm a country as big as the U.S.—especially knowing that many specific regions and cities desperately need more people and workers. However, to make sure it all happens responsibly and safely—using a process with scaffolding and supports designed to help asylees be successful—takes planning, coordination, and trained personnel. There are many moving, interrelated parts to connect and oversee—and broken parts to fix. All at once. I think about this all the time and would love to be part of brainstorming some pilot programs, that’s for sure!
As one small example of the challenges, Al Otro Lado set up an emergency Hotline a month ago to give women and others in significant, immediate danger in Tijuana a place to call so they could be helped to cross in a few days. It worked until AOL received 10,000 calls, completely overwhelming the system, and they had to close it down. As AOL’s lead attorney explained to me, underscoring the painfully obvious, “Basically, everyone is in danger.”
Thank you so much for continuing to support La Casa de Paso! It is taking more money each month to do what we are doing now than it did in the beginning when we simply provided emergency shelter for a couple moms and kids per week. Food, electricity, gas, water, and other costs have all increased the past four months.
I return in a couple weeks, so the next few updates will be from Tijuana.
*Important News* AOL’s lead attorney informed me that UNHCR’s (FYI: ACNUR in Spanish) Phase 2 has begun. Anyone with a closed/terminated MPP case (such as people who got removal orders for missing a court date), are encouraged to re-register by following this link: https://conecta.acnur.org/registro/ There may be families here with family members or friends in this category. Please spread the word.