Reflections from the Border The Crisis at the Tijuana Border Part III: The Situation of Haitian Migrants in the Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew
Fr. Pat Murphy, c.s.
Director, Centro Scalabrini – Casa del Migrante
October 11, 2016
In the gospel of Luke 10:25, a Pharisee asks Jesus a very poignant question when he says: And Who is My Neighbor? Jesus goes on to share the story of the Good Samaritan in which he teaches that your neighbor is just about anyone you find along the road of life’s journey. As we head into our fifth month of our new mission of offering hospitality to a couple of thousand asylum seekers from about 25 countries at the Tijuana border I have found myself thinking a lot about that question – and who is my neighbor?
In fact, as I write this reflection, I am confronted by several challenges currently facing us here at the border as we grapple with the concept – And Who Is My Neighbor:
- On September 22, 2016, the US government issued a statement in which they stated deportations of Haitians will soon resume (probably in early October).
- Most evenings we have over 80 Haitian men as guests in our Casa and most have appointments at the US border to petition for asylum by mid-November.
- Most of these men do not know it but they will most likely be processed, put into detention centers and eventually deported.
- On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew left a path of utter devastation in Haiti, and no doubt many extremely poor folks will be left homeless.
- In the meantime, they keep telling us that as many as 7,000-8,000 more people are on the way to the Tijuana-San Diego border in hopes of asking for asylum (most are Haitians but there also some Africans).
- In addition to this flow of humanity from all parts of the world, there are also hundreds of Mexicans also arriving at the border seeking to escape the violence in the war-torn states of Michoacán and Guerrero. They too are seeking asylum and 99 percent will be rejected rapidly, sent back to Mexico where many will seek refuge in our casas.
- Daily, we hear the men at the Casa saying things like: I cannot go back home, because there is no way to survive. What can I do? Where can I go?
In thinking about Who Is My Neighbor, I often wonder what else we can do or, more precisely, how can we live up to the challenge of Jesus to take care of those we find along the roads of life. Here at Casa, before May 26, 2016, we cared for about 600 neighbors a month but, in the last few months, we have been challenged to care for almost 1,000 neighbors per month.
To be honest, when we accepted this new mission we thought the crisis would last maybe a month and now the reality is that we can see no end in sight. In light of this challenge and as the door for asylum seekers to the United States is quickly closing, we are left with what I call the million-dollar question: What will all these people who have left behind everything in search of new life in the United States do?
I am more convinced than ever that here in Tijuana we are sitting on a ticking time bomb. If we do not act quickly, this crisis at the border can blow up in our faces. The time for thinking about what to do is over, and we urgently need to develop a plan of action before the cold weather comes and before more people arrive. The reality is that the five Casas in Tijuana offering hospitality to these neighbors are bursting at the seams, and we at times are forced to utter that infamous phrase – Sorry but these is no room at the inn! Among other needs:
- We desperately need another shelter that can accommodate at least 300 people. It needs to be professionally staffed with some French speaking team members. All five shelters are full this week so this is an immediate need.
- The government of Mexico needs to come up with a legal means for people seeking asylum to stay in the country. This of course involves the possibility for work visas and a cultural integration program that will make it easy for people to adapt to life in Mexico. Many officials routinely state that there are thousands of jobs available in Tijuana. Now is the time to offer migrants an opportunity to work and start a new life.
- We need to be fully aware that this crisis will continue for several months as all the news reports coming from Costa Rica indicate that thousands are in the process of making the journey to the northern border of Mexico.
- The federal government of Mexico needs to be more responsible for its own people. Literally hundreds of people are fleeing from places like Veracruz, Michoacán and Guerrero because they can simply no longer live in peace. These areas of Mexico are like the Wild West of old and have been taken over by organized crime. Bloody massacres are a daily occurrence. In the last few weeks, three Catholic priests have been kidnapped and later found dead.
- We have become aware that the US government is not even giving asylum hearings to the Mexican nationals coming to the border. Instead they are being asked some basic questions and routinely turned back to the streets of Tijuana within a few hours. These people are now showing up at our houses asking for shelter. They deserve to be treated with justice and dignity, and that is something that the US government sorely lacks here at the border.
- We need to be aware that the weather is about to change, and the possibility of rain will certainly complicate things. The majority of our guests come from the Caribbean and so when temperatures drop below 60 degrees, they will certainly suffer and the health of many will deteriorate.
It seems very clear to us that what was referred to by the government as quite normal a few weeks ago is now developing into a full-fledged humanitarian crisis. If you drive through the city of Tijuana, you can easily see people sleeping on the street. If we do not act now to help our neighbors, conditions will worsen and eventually the situation will be completely out of hand.
Jesus in the gospel of the Good Samaritan spoke very precisely about Who Is My Neighbor. Right now it is the displaced people living on the streets of Tijuana, and now is the time for us to act like Good Samaritans and lend a helping hand.