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Northern Mexico Border Cities Bear Brunt of Border Challenges, Advocate Says

Migrants demonstrate at the Mexico-U.S. San Ysidro port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico, March 2, 2021. They want U.S. President Joe Biden to allow them to apply for asylum. (Photo: CNS/Jorge Duenes, Reuters)

MANHATTAN — As people from Mexico and Central America flee north and the United States deports hundreds of them a day, advocates on the Mexico side of the border say they’re bearing the brunt of both realities. 

In Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, Father Pat Murphy blames a combination of migrants’ misinformed asylum expectations, limited shelter space due to COVID-19, and U.S. Title 42 expulsions for creating the present situation.

[Related: Catholic Immigration Advocates Say ‘Christian Response’ Needed at Border]

“They keep sending more and more people under Title 42, and that means the pressure is on here in Mexico. We’re completely overwhelmed,” said Father Murphy, director of Casa del Migrante Tijuana, a non-profit group that assists migrants. “The people are being sent back. Then people are coming up.”

Title 42 is a government policy instituted by the Trump administration last spring and continued by the Biden administration. It allows U.S. authorities to immediately expel on the grounds of public health migrants that cross the border.

Father Murphy said 200-500 people are currently being sent back daily under the policy. 

Therefore, the situation on the ground in Tijuana, as he describes, includes about 2,000 people camping on a cement pavilion outside of the Mexican immigration facility waiting for asylum to open. The city’s more than 30 migrant shelters are full, he said, and there are still many people not in any sort of shelter at all.

“A lot of people are just hanging around, waiting until something changes,” Father Murphy explained.

Esmeralda Siu Márquez, the executive coordinator of Coalition Pro Defense of the Immigrant (Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante), agreed that the five shelters they operate in Tijuana are at capacity and called for direct help to shelters for operating expenses.

“It is quite the challenge since, despite the pandemic, the mobility of people continues to increase and without the necessary protection measures to prevent the virus, and many of them are overcrowded,” said Márquez, speaking about the camp Father Murphy mentioned and some of its shelters.

Widespread violence, family violence, natural disasters, extreme poverty, fear of losing their lives, persecution, and lack of employment are some of the reasons migrants have told Márquez they fled north in the first place. More specifically, Father Murphy mentioned the danger of the cartels.

“The cartels charge a tax on each business in certain areas, and people say ‘we were surviving, but they’re asking for 50 percent of our intake’,” Father Murphy said. “Or, they say that, ‘we’re going to take your teenage daughter, or your teenage son needs to enter with us.’ ” 

“So, people make decisions overnight, and they just run north. Uninformed, they think it’s going to be easy to assume asylum,” he continued. “So, through this whole education process, they have to realize that asylum is not that easy.”

Father Murphy also noted that nothing is being done to control smugglers charging exorbitant rates, crossing people into the U.S., and still making money. The same is true for human trafficking, which he called a “big concern.”

When people arrive at Casa del Migrante Tijuana, Father Murphy says they have a work office where they encourage people to get a job — which he says there are plenty of in Tijuana in fields like construction — and an apartment, and then wait for the asylum process to open. However, he notes that some people are desperate and decide to try and cross anyway.

Opening that asylum process is one of two things he said the government has to do.

“One, look for ways to begin to eliminate Title 42. The other thing they need to do is resume asylum,” Father Murphy said. “Once people know, OK, I can get appointments, six months, seven months, three months, then I think they’ll relax. They won’t come here unnecessarily because as long as they feel like they have a chance.”

“All people are looking for is a chance.”