Migrant Caravans Push Officials in Tijuana to Limit

As thousands of migrants overwhelm Tijuana, US prepares for a massive rush at the border
November 20, 2018 Updated: November 24, 2018

TIJUANA, Mexico—Top officials in the Mexican border city of Tijuana are concerned they may be overwhelmed by thousands of Central American migrants who have gathered here in the past week with the express purpose of crossing into the United States.

About 2,500 migrants are currently camped out in a local sports complex, as well as several hundred others in shelters dotted around the city. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that there were 6,000 migrants in Tijuana on Nov. 19.

Tijuana Police Chief Mario Martinez said he’s expecting a wave of an additional 2,500 migrants to arrive any day from the Mexicali area.

“Then in two weeks, another 3,000 will arrive. Hopefully, that information will prove false, because we are worried that we will lose control,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times on Nov. 18.

Tijuana Police Chief Mario Martinez coordinates the response to a local protest against the migrant caravan, just outside the migrant encampment in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 18, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

So far, the municipal police have been able to handle everything thrown at them, including rocks hurled by migrants on Nov. 15. “Fortunately, there was also no injury. We managed to control the situation,” Martinez said.

In the week the migrant caravan has been in Tijuana, police have arrested 57 members for crimes such as drug possession, public intoxication, and fighting, according to Tijuana’s Secretary of Public Security Antonio Sotomayor. Of the arrestees, 47 are from Honduras, five from El Salvador, four from Guatemala, and one from Nicaragua. Sotomayor said 42 will be deported and will subsequently be unable to enter Mexico legally.

One police officer told The Epoch Times that he has overheard several migrants at the main camp boasting that they are MS-13 gang members. DHS officials said that there are more than 500 criminals among the migrants.

Martinez said he is getting some support from the federal police, but it’s not enough.

“That is one of the problems. They are the ones that are giving us the problem because they couldn’t control it,” he said, referring to the government allowing the caravan to travel virtually unimpeded through Mexico.

“The situation is very complicated. But we are coordinating it so that we don’t lose control,” he said. “I ask the community of Tijuana for common sense. This is not our fault. Our obligation is to give security to our community and the people who are arriving.”

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Tijuana riot police form a barrier between the migrant camp and protesting Mexicans in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 18, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

‘Maliciously Orchestrated’

President Donald Trump quoted Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum as saying the city is ill-prepared for so many migrants. Trump said the United States is in the same position.

“Likewise, the U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!” the president wrote on Twitter on Nov. 18.

Gastélum said the caravans of thousands of people are “maliciously orchestrated.”

“It can’t be another way. How could you think that suddenly, 4,000 to 5,000 citizens gather together and say, ‘Let’s go to the north, let’s go, everyone’?” Gastélum said in a press conference on Nov. 16. “Someone is pushing them, someone is paying them, someone is telling them, ‘Go there.’ And then, why Tijuana? Tijuana is one of the most difficult borders to cross to the U.S.”

Gastélum held back from pointing to any specific organizations behind the caravan, but Vice President Mike Pence said on Oct. 26 that intelligence from foreign partners points to leftist groups.

“What the president of Honduras told me is that the caravan was organized by leftist organizations, political activists within Honduras, and he said it was being funded by outside groups, and even from Venezuela,” Pence told Fox News on Oct. 26.

Gastélum was more reticent, saying, “This migration situation has the malicious goal of creating trouble, with an international complexity—someone is delighted for doing this evil.”

Locals Protest Against Caravan

Martinez said he had to deploy 200 officers, some in riot gear, to create a barrier between the migrant camp and about 400 local residents protesting the migrants on Nov. 18. One person was arrested, who “came to incite the protesters,” he said. “We are expecting more protests, but we are prepared.”

The local protesters said they were sick of the mostly Honduran migrants complaining about the food provided to them, as well as the violence they have sparked in Tijuana.

Local resident and protester Guadalupe Arangure said it’s wrong to think it’s a migrant caravan.

“Don’t get it twisted—this is an invasion,” he said. “Once you cross the borders, once you went through those borders with violence, it became an invasion.”

A month ago, the caravan broke through a fence on the Guatemalan–Mexican border and subsequently pushed northward.

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Mexicans protest the migrant caravan from Central America as riot police keep them away from the migrant encampment in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 18, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

At the protest, Rodrigo Melgoza held a handwritten sign saying, “Immigrants yes, illegals no.”

“I think everyone has the right to create a life in a new country, but they have to do it the legal way,” he said. “They should not violate the sovereignty of all Mexicans and of Mexico like these people did there on the border.”

Elvia Villegas said she wants the Mexican government to deport the migrants and she admires Trump, “because he is defending his borders.”

“Not like here in Mexico, where politicians are corrupt and do not defend their borders,” she said.

Heightened Security

The Mexican government offered asylum to the migrants about two weeks ago, but most refused, saying they want to live in the United States. Most of the migrants that The Epoch Times has spoken to said they want to go to the United States for a better life and a better job. The majority of the males interviewed have wives and young children that they left at home.

Meanwhile, Trump has activated the Department of Defense to help fortify the ports of entry in California, Arizona, and Texas, with concertina wire, so-called Jersey barriers, more surveillance, and troops backing up border agents.

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Several vehicle lanes adjacent to a pedestrian entrance remain closed at the San Ysidro port of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border. The crossing area was fortified by the U.S. Department of Defense early in the morning of Nov. 19, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

At the San Ysidro border crossing—the busiest in the nation—several vehicle lanes adjacent to the pedestrian entrance have been indefinitely closed in response to a possible rush of the border by the migrants.

“CBP officials were notified that a large # of caravan migrants were planning to rush the border in an attempt to gain illegal access to the U.S.,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote on Twitter on Nov. 19.

Border Patrol agents have been redeployed from quieter sectors to the hotspots, including 50 extra agents at the Yuma sector in Arizona.

More than 5,600 active-duty soldiers are already deployed at the border, with a further 1,400 on standby, according to the Department of Defense.

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The U.S. military patrols the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friendship Park in San Ysidro, Calif., on Nov. 15, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

On Nov. 20, a federal judge in California blocked Trump’s emergency-asylum measures that disallowed those who crossed the border illegally from claiming general asylum.

The goal was to funnel asylum-seekers through the ports of entry and keep Border Patrol agents in the field. Illegal border crossers could still claim certain types of asylum, but the burden of proof is higher. Unaccompanied minors were exempt from Trump’s Nov. 9 proclamation.

The ruling, by District Judge Jon Steven Tigar in San Francisco, could precipitate a surge across the border as the consequences diminish for illegal entry.

Although the multiple caravans are eliciting a lot of attention due to their scale, it’s not a new phenomenon. In October alone, more than 25,400 asylum-seekers were apprehended after illegally crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, according to CBP statistics.

Only 9 percent of Central Americans who claim asylum at the border end up being approved by an immigration judge, according to the Department of Justice.

Kimberly Hayak contributed to this report.