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Scenes from the Mexican border

Ann Deslandes  |  14 February 2019

I met Franco standing outside the migrant shelter in Tijuana when I was planning to leave for the day. He clocked my white skin and media lanyard and called out to me in English. I stopped and said hi.

Franco’s from El Salvador; he crossed the border into the US for the first time 20 years ago, spending the subsequent years living in California. He had a relationship with a woman, they had a daughter. One day he was taken from his home and deported back to El Salvador.

HUMANITARIAN VISA

Like so many who join migrant caravans, Franco is in Mexico right now because he’s trying again to get to the US. He wants to see his daughter, to have some chance of making enough money to support a family. The Mexican government has granted him a humanitarian visa for Mexico and the El Salvadoran consulate has provided identification papers.

After a couple of days living in the migrant shelter Franco met Marta, who runs the tiendita (little shop) two blocks up. The shop sells bottled drinks and snacks and serves cooked lunches – fried chicken, beans, rice, and salad. It’s part of a three-storey building which is a family home with many rooms.

Marta’s young great-grandchildren are the fourth generation to live there, and they play in the courtyard with water pistols and tricycles as various household and community members move in and out. Soon Franco was living in the family home too, lodgings he pays for by helping cook chicken and clean the store. ‘This is my family, here, now’, he tells me. ‘They will help me until I’m reunited with my family.’

ANYONE IS WELCOME

‘We’re all equals, we all have red blood’, says Marta when I interview her. ‘For me, anyone who comes here from another country is welcome.’

That day, President Trump visited McAllen, Texas (across the frontier from Reynosa, Mexico) to declare further measures against any who would try and cross the border without prior approval. Mexico and the US had already agreed that asylum seekers are to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed in the US – a wait that is likely to be many months.

Of the numbers who arrived in Tijuana with the caravan in November, at least 1300 returned to their home countries of Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, or Guatemala – finding a way back on foot, hitching rides on trains and trucks, or reporting to Mexican immigration authorities for voluntary deportation.

Even as violence and poverty await them at home, it was clear that they would not get to the US; they missed their partners and children left behind; and they could neither see a viable future in trying to stay in Mexico.

PRECARIOUS WAIT

The others remain in precarious shelters, in family homes like Marta’s or rented rooms, considering their options in Mexico, waiting for US authorities to see them for an appointment for their asylum claim or otherwise working our their options for getting across the border.

Later in the week, on Tijuana beach on the other side of the city, I stand at the border wall; staring out into the no-mans-land between the fence on the Tijuana side of the beach and that on the San Diego (US) side. Border Patrol cars zoom up and down the asphalt, clearly with nothing much else to do. I think of the people I feel physically, viscerally bonded to; like my sister and my nephew.

There are others here on the beach, too, standing and staring at this innocuous-looking piece of infrastructure as the ocean tides crash and spray. I’ve met so many now who have been separated from their partners, parents, and children – suddenly banished to another country, left with few resources to remake a life, those physical bonds forcibly, deliberately torn with little possibility of reconnection.

'I HAVE TO TRY'

Another caravan is on its way from Honduras, and it includes many more people who have made it to the US in the past and been sent back; many more who embody the sheer hustle that is supposed to be what makes America great. As one man told the Washington Post: ‘I know only some in the last caravan made it, but I have to try.’

The patience and determination of people like Franco comes from a deep place. If there’s a spark of hope, they’ll carry it – cradling it against the bitter winds coming off the ocean to stop it blowing out. This, for all their bluster, is what anti-migrant politicians miss: try as they might, the movement of people will happen as long as life itself does.

This article was first published in Eureka Street. Go to www.eurekastreet.com.au for daily analysis, commentary and reflection on current issues of importance in our world. 

 

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