At the Migrant House in Tijuana, close to the border, the Scalabrinian Missionaries welcome Central American immigrants and Mexicans deported from the US. Their mission: to try to give them a future in the new year, and beyond.
“We start 2019 with a lot of momentum, and many projects, one of these is to support the members of the caravan of migrants, for their integration in Mexico, while they wait their turn to enter the United States. In the same way, we will try to help Mexicans who were deported here, and the people who have been displaced from the south of the country because of violence and poverty. It is time for everyone to have the opportunities and the tranquility they deserve.” Speaking is Fr. Pat Murphy, a Scalabrinian Missionary and Director of the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, Mexico. Fr. Murphy is from the USA, living on the other side of the border with thousands of people who would like to do the exact the opposite. In Tijuana, about 6,000 Central American migrants arrived since mid-November; this city, in particular the center of an explosive front for both countries. Explosive not only for the enormous challenges that the arrival of thousands of people from Central America poses to Mexico, but also for the political stakes that the wall represents on both sides of the border.
“On the one hand,” says Fr. Murphy, “disaster is the only word that comes to mind: Mexico is not prepared to provide housing and services for thousands of migrants.”
Meanwhile, at the Migrant House, in operation for over 30 years, he and his staff have rolled up their sleeves determined to cope with the different situations and emergencies that have arisen: “Before the arrival of the caravan most of the guests of our house were Mexicans deported from the USA, today, 90% are Central American migrants. We are taking care of those requesting asylum, and we are organizing a special program to help them to get a job in the city and any necessary documentation,” Fr. Murphy explains further. “This program is similar to the one we have for Mexican deportees: those who decide to settle here, to receive support from the House, to obtain official documents, and a property to live on with a stable job.”
On the other side of the wall, the position of President Donald Trump remains adamant. Not only can these people not pass, but the wall must be strengthened “to defend America from immigrants, illegal immigrants, criminals and drug traffickers”. It is one of the promises that President Trump had made in his election campaign, and one that he does not want to withdraw from. It is also a theme on which his campaign for re-election in 2020 is based upon. Currently, almost 250 miles of wall and fences have already been built, but Trump would like to reach 500/600 miles along the more than 2,000 miles of border. The cost goes from 11 to 25 billion USD.
Mexico is already faced with the wave of Central American migrants who have crossed the country and are blocked at the border. Many arrived in Tijuana with the idea that they could pass through into the United States within three or four days. In fact, they have had to wait at least three or four months just to send their application for asylum to the US. Alternatively, they must apply in Mexico, and try to start a new life in this border town.
Amnesty International has long denounced the attitude of the Mexican immigration authorities who “regularly reject thousands of people from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, without considering the risk they will face once they are repatriated. In many cases, they violate both internal and international norms.”
“We have heard harrowing stories of families, children, women and men who escaped from a context of extreme violence to save their lives,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas Director of Amnesty International for the Americas. “Instead of providing the protection they were entitled to, Mexico has illegally turned its back on people who desperately needed it.”
According to Amnesty International, about 75% of migrants arrested in Mexico have not been informed of their right to seek asylum in the country despite the fact that legislation specifically requires it.
Another serious chapter concerns Mexicans deported from the United States. “The deportations of Mexicans to the cities of Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo continue at a steady pace,” Fr. Murphy explains. “We also witnessed a change in the demographic profile of those who were deported. We are receiving a large number of elderly people, age 70 or over, as well as a number of people who are very sick or have serious psychological problems. Expelling people in such a state of great vulnerability is a cruelty, and it is against all the principles that the United States of America has defended since its foundation.”
Finally and surprisingly, at the Casa del Migrante, many Africans are hosted. “Every month a regular flow of migrants come from places like Cameroon or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are trying to escape political upheavals and persecutions that make a peaceful life impossible.”
The border context, and more generally the Mexican social situation, does not facilitate reception; throughout the country, the level of violence is growing significantly and dramatically. In the city of Tijuana alone, there have been over 2,000 murders from January to October 2018.
However, there is no shortage of positive signs. Fr. Murphy and his staff are committed to creating a new project, the Scalabrinian Training Center for Migrants (CESFOM). “We are convinced that providing food and shelter is not enough to make a difference in people’s lives,” Fr. Murphy states with conviction. “This is why we have created CESFOM, not too far from the Casa del Migrante, a place that tries to give a solid foundation to the dream of migrants for a better life.” In 2018 alone, 24 courses were held with 2,172 migrants or refugees taking part. It is a great commitment, but also a great sign of hope for the future.