It’s been a rough month for asylum seekers waiting at the Tijuana border. More people in tents at El Chaparral are convinced it is unsafe there now and want to move. In addition, rumors abound that authorities will soon remove everyone camped there, so Javier is getting lots of calls from families who want his help in finding another place to live. Sadly, there are few options, especially for people who insist, against his advice, on staying close to downtown, where it’s very expensive and shelters are full.
On Thursday night, Oct. 29, Javier said about 100 police officers, along with social workers and who knows who else, descended on El Chaparral. They visited each tent, took down names, assigned each tent a number, and handed out passes to people that allow them—and only them—to enter and exit the encampment. On Friday, Oct. 30, a wire fence was erected around El Chaparral with guards and dogs at the gate through which asylum seekers can enter and exit by showing their pass. It must be terrifying for many of them.
Javier was able to get a pass and can now enter the fenced off encampment. Requiring a pass for anyone to enter has perhaps made things a little safer, but nothing is ever quite as it seems. Today, Nov. 8, the electricity and water were shut off in the encampment.
What it takes for Javier to find housing for people who wish to leave El Chaparral and find a small apartment near downtown (and the border) is many miles of walking each day. We experienced this ourselves. It took a solid month until we found half of a duplex that became La Casa de Paso. Javier wanders up and down random streets looking for a sign in a window and asking people he passes if they know of a place. If he sees a sign, he calls the number. If he’s lucky, the landlord answers and lives nearby, so Javier can see it. Sadly, many landlords do not want to rent to a family with two or three children, or they refuse to rent to anyone without a work permit or proof of income, even though we often help by paying first and last month’s rent. If the apartment is an option, Javier brings the family to see it. If it’s a go, then they must move all their belongings, which in many cases is more than will fit in a small Uber, so Javier hires a man with a truck to move everything. Once they are settled, he checks back to see what items they might need. He will bring things we have at La Casa or purchase necessary items.
Javier found a big house for a family of six from Nicaragua a few days ago. Seeing there was some extra space that could house more people, he talked to the landlord, who said for an additional $200 (paid one time), she would allow two more families to move in (which means three families could share the rent). However, they found out there is no water in the back of the house, so Javier and a friend are going to do the work to connect and extend the water pipes, making it habitable for two additional families (and a good deal for the landlord!).
One family of five we worked with for many months simply would not be deterred from reaching the United States. I wrote a Humanitarian Visa Parole request for them about two months ago when I was there, but the ACLU stopped accepting them the day I completed their request. So sad. The family, undeterred, tried 20 times to walk across the border by themselves (the same way I walk back and forth each time I go to Tijuana), only to be sent back each time. Imagine what it takes to do this with three children and all your belongings in tow each time. But finally, on their 21st attempt, for whatever reason, they were allowed to cross! The biggest risk they took was not so much being returned to Mexico, but the risk of being sent back to their country of origin. In their case, that would have been South America, so perhaps too expensive for the U.S. to fly them all home? Anyhow, they are now in a hotel in San Diego awaiting the results of their COVID tests and called Javier to give him the happy news. Few people would have the perseverance of this family—the father has bullets lodged in his chest near his heart that cause him constant pain (we took him to the clinic several times), and the mother is in great pain from an ovarian cyst that needs to be removed (we also took her to the doctor three or four times for tests). Despite everything they endured, they worked as hard as any family we know to provide for their children while in Mexico and to get to their relatives in the U.S. We wish them the best and hope they keep in touch. We are lucky to have them here.
Javier regularly brings families back to shower and cook meals at La Casa despite another surge in COVID cases in Tijuana. (Yellow tape on houses or on the street identify COVID deaths; trucks pick up the bodies, since morgues are full.) He buys and delivers food to shelters, takes people to the clinic, buys medicine, and pays for people who need Mexican IDs and work permits. He also works one or two days a week with a nonprofit group that is building houses for poor people. Thank you for your continuing support for La Casa de Paso! I will return mid-December.
Compassion is a verb.