The last couple of months of 2018 are shaping up to be some very interesting times in Tijuana. Several converging themes lead me to paraphrase the great Charles Dickens: “These are the best of times and these are the worst of times.”
At this moment, there are about 2,500 people waiting in Tijuana for their US political asylum appointments. About 80 percent are from Mexico, and most are women and children. The current wait time for an appointment is at least one month. Most likely, however, 95 percent of those who apply for asylum will be rejected and deported back to their home country
In addition, the imminent arrival of the first of possibly four “caravans” from Central America is not too far away. This group, consisting mostly of Hondurans, will likely arrive in Tijuana in three to four weeks. During the first week of November, around 5,000 Central American migrants arrived in Mexico City. Even earlier in the last few days of October, a trickle of Central Americans began to arrive at the border, filling the women’s shelters and leaving people to sleep on the streets.
On the eve of the midterm elections, President Donald Trump begin to call the caravan a national emergency and its members part of an invading force. This has resulted in the deployment of what could ultimately be 15,000 troops to the border to respond to “bad hombre” rock throwers from Central America.
Meanwhile, deportations of Mexicans to the cities of Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo continue at a steady pace. This past year, we have also seen a change in the demographic profile of those being deported. We are receiving a high number of elderly migrants (aged 70 and up), as well as a number seriously ill persons with several suffering from severe psychological problems. The cruelty of deporting people in such a vulnerable state truly defies logic and goes against everything that the United States has stood for since its foundation.
Since the start of the year, we have also been receiving a steady number of Central Americans arriving in Tijuana as a place of destination, rather than a place to cross the border or to seek asylum.
A regular flow of Africans also arrives every month, coming from places like Cameroon and the Congo. They are trying to escape political upheaval and persecution that makes a peaceful life impossible.
The level of violence in Mexico has escalated out of control and murder has become a daily occurrence in many cities. Tijuana has not been able to escape this violent onslaught. By the end of October, there had been over 2,000 homicides this year.
This sums up the worst of times. Many people ask our staff, “How do you not lose hope and what keeps you going day to day?” Let me share a few signs of hope and some reasons you might say these are also the best of times at the Casa.
The Casa’s Residents. The people we serve continually inspire us. José, for example, arrived here a few months ago very depressed over his deportation. Today, he lives in a rented apartment, has a successful job at a local call center, and has started a new life in Tijuana.
The Dream of a Better Tomorrow. We have come to believe that providing food and shelter is not enough to make a difference in people’s lives. In the light of the migrants’ dream for a better tomorrow, we recently purchased a piece of land not too far from the Casa that will soon become CESFOM (Scalabrinian Formation Center for Migrants). This new center will be a place that gives life to the migrants’ dreams. CESFOM programs have already started at the Casa. We offer computer classes, language courses, faith formation, and workshops on parenting long distance. We are convinced that the path to new life and renewed hope for migrants is through formation and education. About 200 students attend class every month.
Closed Borders but Open Hearts. President Trump might want to close the border, but thanks to God, the hearts of many people on both sides of the border remain open. The generosity of so many people from so many walks of life continues to inspire all of us at the Casa. Donations arrive every day, and volunteers come and offer their services to the migrants for periods of three months to one year.
New Leadership in Mexico. In Mexico, we eagerly wait for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to assume the leadership of the country. He offers a fresh voice of hope for the people of Mexico to end the violence and corruption which runs rampant throughout the country. There is a contagious optimism the likes of which has not been seen in Mexico for many generations. In the end, a better Mexico will mean better opportunities for deportees and migrants who call Tijuana home.
As we approach the end of the year, we are experiencing the best and worst of times. As people of faith, we must continue to live with hope and share the possibility of a better tomorrow for our migrant brothers. At times, the voices of politicians, even presidents, seem to suck the breath of life out of all of us. However, the good news is that presidents come and go, but the light of Christ will forever show us the path to take as a community of faith at the border. This well-lit path inspires us to move forward in the hope of a new life for all who enter the doors of the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana.