How confusion over Biden’s policies spawned a new US border refugee camp

A red van pulls up next to a migrant tent camp in the Mexican city of Tijuana, its bed filled with loaves of bread and clothes. Men, women and children run to meet him.

“A line! Form a line!” someone shouts. A woman in a long skirt gets into the truck and begins to preach into a microphone: “You all hope to go to the United States!” she says. “You all hope to be blessed! Well, take the hand of God!”

Migrants raise their hands to pray. Food can be scarce in the camp, and the queue moves back up the road, past dozens of dirty tents and portable toilets.

Just off Mexico’s popular crosswalk to the United States at El Chaparral, a refugee camp has mushroomed in recent months, filled with asylum seekers desperate to cross the still-closed border between the United States and the United States. Mexico.

Migrant activists say the camp, which began to expand in February and now numbers some 2,000 migrants by a single count, came into being in part as an unintended consequence of US President Joe Biden’s mixed approach to quashing the radical immigration policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The camp is becoming increasingly dangerous, migrants and activists told Reuters, with unsanitary conditions, drug use and gangs entering the area. Government organizations are largely absent and the humanitarian presence is only intermittent. Rumors fuel hopes among migrants that they will soon be able to enter the United States.

Reuters spent four days speaking with more than two dozen migrants in the camp, which consists of tents and tarps spread out in different directions over a concrete plaza and under an overpass.

Hundreds of children, including infants, live in the camp. Most of the migrants are Mexican and Central American.

Discussions about attempted kidnappings are rife, and many migrants avoid leaving their tents out of fear for their safety and that of their children. The only Tijuana municipal police cars parked on the outskirts of the camp constitute the only consistent state security. But migrants say that is not enough to make them feel safe.

“I don’t sleep at night,” said Rosy, a migrant from the Mexican state of Guerrero who is terrified that her three children, aged 5, 3 and 5 months, will be kidnapped.

The camp has no running water other than a diverted hose used for cooking and bathing. Campaigners say its portable toilets are cleaned too infrequently to be hygienic. There is no governance structure within the camp, which relies on donations from churches, non-profit organizations and individuals for their basic livelihood.


In February, the Biden administration announced it would begin phasing out Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, which had forced thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their asylum claims. be heard. People with active PID cases would be allowed to enter the United States. In March, the infamous Matamoros refugee camp just across the border from Texas – where many members of the MPP program had been waiting their turn for treatment – was closed.

Activists told Reuters the announcement directly influenced the start of the new camp in Tijuana, across from San Diego and about 4,000 miles from Matamoros. Migrants began camping on February 18, the night before processing for MPP migrants began, amid confusion over who exactly would be admitted into the country.

The U.S. border remains closed to the vast majority of asylum seekers under a Trump-era COVID-19 health order that Biden did not revoke.

But the confusion remains. Many migrants Reuters spoke to said they believe they will soon be able to seek asylum in the United States once they arrive at the camp, based on rumors and reports that the situation at the border has changed under Biden, who took office in January. .

Honduran migrant Kevin, wearing an American flag, holds his daughter Keiry, during a multicultural activity at a makeshift camp at the El Chaparral border entry point with the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico on 22 April 2021. REUTERS / Toya Sarno Jordan

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Biden attempts to balance a more humane immigration policy with a desire not to encourage further migration from Mexico and Central America. He is already facing mounting criticism from opposition Republicans and even Democrats over the increase in the number of people crossing the southern border illegally.

The White House said in a statement that it would take time to rebuild the country’s immigration system after the Trump administration. He did not respond to Reuters questions about the liquidation of the MPP influencing the start of the Tijuana camp, referring other questions to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“The Biden administration has made it clear that our borders are not open, that people must not make the dangerous journey and that individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including deportation,” said a DHS spokesperson in a separate statement. “Physical presence at a port of entry or at an encampment” does not provide access to the progressive system of entry into the United States, the spokesperson said.

Mexico’s foreign ministry said in a statement that government officials tried to encourage migrants to go to shelters.

Tijuana’s director of migrant affairs José Luis Pérez Canchola said officials were trying to find a safe space for migrants, but there was no concrete plan yet.

The migrants said they feared that if they left the encampment, they might lose their place in a line that does not really exist, or that the conditions in the shelters would be worse than in the camp. Some were afraid to leave their tents for safety reasons.

Some had lived elsewhere in Tijuana for months, while others had only arrived recently. Others said they had crossed Texas and been deported to Tijuana, and came to the camp because they did not know where to go.


New families are arriving at Tijuana camp every day, entering what activists and camp residents alike consider to be an increasingly dangerous situation, with reports of gang members marching through the camp, selling drugs or researching. rival gang members.

The Matamoros encampment was widely seen as the result of Trump’s tough policies, but some activists say that in many ways the situation in Tijuana is even worse.

While Matamoros was dangerous and sordid, there was ultimately a strong NGO presence, and he was demarcated by barriers. Migrants were also there on the way to potential entry into the United States.

“Migrants in the Tijuana camp are much worse off,” said Erika Pinheiro, legal and political director of Al Otro Lado, a non-profit organization that initially visited the camp in person but is ‘is being shut down, in part due to a lack of volunteers and security concerns.

“There is less infrastructure, more security concerns, and migrants are not tied to any ongoing asylum process,” she said. The organization serves migrants, including some from the camp, through a remote screening process.

Dulce Garcia, executive director of Border Angels, a non-profit organization that works in the camp, said she regularly receives messages from terrified camp residents at night. They reported beatings and attempted kidnappings. She no longer goes to the camp alone, she said, as she fears for her safety and hopes more volunteers will start working in the camp to make it safer.

“You stay calm, but you live in fear,” said Ana, a 21-year-old Guatemala who desperately needs to enter the United States to join her father. “I have been kidnapped and bad things are happening to me, and I live with the fear that it will happen again.”

In recent days, migrants have started marching towards the San Ysidro port of entry with protest signs that read things like “BIDEN SOLUTION”, “WE WANT TO BE HEARD” and “WE NEED POLITICAL ASYLUM” . There is talk in the camp of a hunger strike.

“The only thing we want is a response from the president,” said Claudia Melendez, a Honduran asylum seeker who came to the camp a month ago. “He said nothing.

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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