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A Honduran migrant family, part of a caravan trying to reach the United States, ran from tear gas released by U.S. border patrol Nov. 25 near the border fence in Tijuana, Mexico.
A Honduran migrant family, part of a caravan trying to reach the United States, ran from tear gas released by U.S. border patrol Nov. 25 near the border fence in Tijuana, Mexico.
Photo Credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon | Reuters

Migrants in Tijuana remain in unsettled situation after attempted crossing

Though some Catholic migrant advocates criticize U.S. response as harsh, many warn against another crossing attempt

MEXICO CITY — The chaotic scene in Tijuana Nov. 25 — when migrants, including some women and children, were repelled from the United States border with tear gas — prompted the closure of one of the world’s busiest border crossings. It also showed the increasing impatience and despair of thousands of caravan participants, who could spend months in an uncomfortable camp as they wait to present asylum claims to U.S. officials.

And while some Catholic migrant advocates criticized U.S. reaction as excessive, some who work with migrants through a network of shelters stretching the length of the country said they tried warning the caravan participants and a migrant advocacy group accompanying it, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, that — unlike past years, when smaller caravans would cross Mexico — times had changed. Resources for sustaining thousands of migrants in Tijuana are stretched thin and the U.S. government has showed few signs of speeding up the process for accepting asylum applications.

Press reports from Tijuana described a peaceful protest, in which the migrants planned to present their case: that they had come only to work and save their own lives. But the protest was met by a wall of Mexican police officers, prompting the migrants to detour the barricade and head to a train border crossing.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection tweeted that some migrants “threw projectiles.” In response, “Border Patrol agents deployed tear gas to dispel the group because of the risk to agents’ safety. Several agents were hit by the projectiles.”

The caravan has crossed closed borders and pushed past police barricades since departing San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in mid-October. Parishes have assisted the original caravan and several subsequent caravans as they passed through southern Mexico; a group of religious offered medical attention, and dioceses have taken up collections.

But now the migrants have run up against the U.S. border and a U.S. administration that has warned that the caravan will not enter the country. The U.S. has allowed fewer than 50 claims to be made daily, even as thousands wait their turn in Mexico.

The caravan also risks becoming unwelcome in Tijuana, where hostile attitudes have already been expressed, border closures hurt the economy and the local government warned resources were running low.

Taking that many people to one border crossing and organizing a march “can’t be a good idea. It’s a horrific one,” said Father Alejandro Solalinde, who operates a migrant shelter in southern Oaxaca state. “But there is no control there whatsoever.”

“I … gave them this advice, but they ignored it because the leaders (the activists) taking them made them believe that they were going to be able to do it, when in reality, it wasn’t like that,” said Father Solalinde.

Jorge Andrade, coordinator of a collective of Catholic-run migrant shelters, called the U.S. response “excessive.” In the spring, Andrade said caravan organizers “have good intentions, but they’re exposing (the migrants) to danger.”

Father Andres Ramirez, who works with migrants in Tijuana, called the response “unprecedented” and said such a border closure as occurred Nov. 25 had not happened since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Father Solalinde has refused to accompany migrants farther north than Mexico City, saying the road poses risks such as kidnapping. He recounted how one group of migrants, who were evangelicals, told him: God will take care of us.

“They wouldn’t take into account the current political climate, the (Dec. 1 presidential) transition in Mexico, the bad organization that they had, because they didn’t see the opportunity for people to help them,” Father Solalinde said, speaking to the haste of many to rush to the border and not fully consider the opportunity to work in Mexico or apply for asylum there.

The Mexican government stated Nov. 25 it had detained 98 migrants who were involved in scuffles with police and tried to cross the border at Tijuana.

It added more than 7,400 migrants from various caravans were currently in the border state of Baja California, while 11,000 migrants had been repatriated or deported to Central America since Oct. 19.

The Washington Post reported Nov. 24 the United States and Mexico’s incoming government had reached an agreement known as “Remain in Mexico,” in which asylum seekers would wait south of the border while their claims are processed in U.S. courts. Incoming Mexican Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero later denied the story, but did not disavow her comments to the Post confirming a deal.

Catholic, other faith groups pledge solidarity with all seeking asylum in U.S.

WASHINGTON — More than 3,000 Catholics and other people of faith signed a pledge Nov. 19 to express solidarity with all those seeking asylum in the United States and “promising to be good neighbors to those seeking refuge in our community and to build a community where all are welcome.”

The same day U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco put a temporary hold on an asylum policy issued by President Donald Trump Nov. 9 that required people entering the country without documents to present themselves formally at official ports of entry to be eligible for asylum.

The policy, issued as a presidential order, was to be in effect for 90 days until Tigar issued his ruling. The Trump administration pledged to appeal.

The solidarity pledge was organized by a coalition of groups, including the Franciscan Action Network, the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Faith in Public Life and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In an earlier joint statement, Catholic leaders said the Trump policy “will restrict and slow access to protection for hundreds of children and families fleeing violence in Central America, potentially leaving them in unsafe conditions in Mexico or in indefinite detention situations at the U.S./Mexico border.”

Released Nov. 14, it was signed by Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration; Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA; Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network; and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.

“We reiterate that it is not a crime to seek asylum and this right to seek refuge is codified in our laws and in our values,” they continued. “We urge the administration to seek other solutions that will strengthen the integrity of the existing immigration system, while assuring access to protection for vulnerable children and families.”

— Catholic News Service

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