El Chaparral square in Tijuana, where is a pedestrian path Bidst Between San Diego and its southern neighbor amalgamate a host of companies and transit stations, which were bustling with activity at 7 am on Monday. Street vendors sold breakfast meals and local newspapers to workers heading north to cover their shifts.
There, too, every morning, asylum seekers from all over the world gather to wait for their numbers to be called from a notebook to start the immigration process. Others were lining up to be temporarily transported across the border to attend their court sessions.
Today the crowds have left, driven by the pandemic and the US government’s hostile policy of asylum seekers.
But as incoming president Joe Biden prepares to move to the White House, hope grows in Tijuana.
With this comes urgent pressure from asylum seekers to make Biden fulfill his electoral promises and start allowing them to enter the United States.
Thousands of asylum seekers have been trapped in the border city for months, and in some cases for years, due to restrictive policies by the Trump administration.
Some of them have been returned to Tijuana through the Mexico Stay Program, which forces them to wait south of the border while their cases are pending in US immigration courts. These cases have been stopped since the epidemic began.
Others were taped for a waiting list in a notebook run by Mexican immigration and immigration officials due to a policy called Measure Which limits the number of asylum seekers that US ports of entry will process each day. Others couldn’t even sign up on the waiting list because the notebook has been locked since the pandemic stopped processing asylum applications completely.
“We hope the new government consisting of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will provide us with assistance and support going forward,” said an asylum seeker from Guatemala who asked not to be identified due to the risks he still faces. “The previous government left us left here.”
The Biden team is expected to unveil some immigration policy proposals early Wednesday, but as of Tuesday night, it was unclear if they would include changes to the asylum process.
Last week, El Chaparral in Tijuana was quiet and empty, except for taxi drivers and a family from Guerrero, Mexico, who had just arrived in Tijuana for help and were gathered under cover.
Although the western crossing is still full of essential workers waiting in lines for up to two hours of waiting times, the eastern passage at the Port of Entry San Ysidro has been closed for months.
And the daily line for asylum seekers disappeared.
Polina Olvera Canes, Director of the Espacio Migrant shelter in Tijuana, the United States and Mexico, blames the situation asylum seekers now face in Tijuana.
“There was a complete abandonment by the two governments,” he said. The epidemic has been very difficult for migrants. They are in a really precarious situation. “
Angelina, an asylum-seeker from Haiti, said she was returned to Mexico under the pandemic order after giving birth while in custody in the United States. She said she didn’t know anyone in Tijuana and had nowhere to go, so she and her new baby slept on the street for several days.
With Biden’s promise to restore the asylum system in mind, asylum seekers and their supporters are pressing for policy changes in the early days of his administration. On Tuesday, a group of asylum seekers from Tijuana posted a video message congratulating Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and asking for their help.
The video says: “We want you to know that there are thousands of families in danger and have been waiting at the border for more than a year.” “This has been harmful and traumatic for men, women and children.”
Catherine Giron Martinez, a community-based organization from Espacio Migrante who has been placed in the Remain in Mexico program, known formally as Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP, said processing an asylum application should be considered an essential task as long as the pandemic continues, after fleeing El Salvador.
The Mendoza family, a family of Cuban asylum seekers who were placed in the Mexico stay program a few months ago, hopes their life’s nightmare will soon end. Part of that hope comes from the presidential transfer of power, as well as from the legal team trying to help them.
They fled Cuba in 2018 due to political persecution, made the long journey through South and Central America, and were robbed and attacked along the way, before reaching the US-Mexico border, according to the father. He asked that he not be identified except by his last name due to the danger he still faced in Tijuana.
Son of Mendoza suffers from a disease that causes him to lose his motor skills if not treated soon. The father prays for lawyers in the service of the Jewish family to help convince border officials to allow his family to enter the country as soon as this week. Some families have been able to do so recently due to serious medical needs, but it is still rare.
“What we want as parents is that our children enjoy good health, get a proper education, live and not suffer from what we parents suffer from,” Mendoza said in Spanish. “We left Cuba and tried to prevent them from feeling the change, but it’s almost impossible because they realize it.”
Sadly in her voice, she recalled, her 7-year-old son asked her why so much had happened to the family.
“Sometimes God gives us positions and paths that we have to face, and this is one of them,” Mendoza said. “I know that with his strong hand we can reach out and show this country that we are working hard, following the laws and respecting them.”
At the moment, the family is renting a room and trying not to leave it. Mendoza is particularly concerned that his children or wife may be kidnapped. He said migrants are often victims and can be sold after arrest.