Tensions High In Tijuana As Migrant Caravan Arrives
Tensions remained high in Tijuana and at the U.S.- Mexico border Sunday, where thousands of members of a migrant caravan began arriving in the past week planning to seek asylum in the United States.
Part of Friendship Park, on the U.S. side of the border near the shoreline, has been closed since an incident Thursday night in which people on the Mexican side allegedly threw rocks at American officials including the Border Patrol San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent, Rodney Scott.
“Due to unrest in this location, the area known as Friendship Circle has been closed to visitors until further notice,” Border Patrol spokesman Ralph DeSio told Fox 5 San Diego.
About 2,400 migrants, mostly from Central America, have arrived in Tijuana since last Sunday.
The bulk of the caravan arrived late Thursday, and city officials in Tijuana opened a gymnasium to potentially house up to 3,000 people.
City shelters are only able to house 700 people.
More than 1,000 more caravan members were in Mexicali and were expected to travel to Tijuana in the coming days.
Tensions between residents and migrants boiled over Thursday night, with USA Sunday reporting that Tijuana police separated the groups after spurts of shoving and thrown punches. Tijuana residents reportedly wanted the migrants to go to shelters rather than the public spaces they occupied.
Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum said Friday that the city isn’t in a position to handle the influx of people, which could reach 10,000 according to estimates from the Mexican government. The caravan members were expected to be in Tijuana for at least six months and possibly as long as a year and a half, Baja California Secretary-General Francisco Rueda Gomez said at a Tijuana City Hall meeting Friday.
“No city in the world is prepared to receive this — if I’m allowed — this avalanche,” Gastelum said during a news conference at City Hall. “It is a tsunami. There is concern among all citizens of Tijuana.”
The mayor also had harsher words for the migrants, whom he referred to as “pot-smokers” and “bums.”
“Supposedly they are fleeing catastrophe, mistreatment in their countries of origin,” Gastelum said. “How is it possible that they arrive here and, if they want, create disorder?”
President Donald J. Trump, who made the migrant caravan a major concern during the midterm campaign season, took to Twitter to comment on the Tijuana mayor’s statements.
“The Mayor of Tijuana, Mexico, just stated that `the City is ill- prepared to handle this many migrants, the backlog could last 6 months,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Likewise, the U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!”
But there was support for the migrants as well. Enrique Morones, the founder and executive director of migrant assistance group Border Angels, sharply criticized Gastelum in a news conference Saturday.
“Border Angels is here to say that the immigrants are welcome,” Morones said. “They are welcome in Playas de Tijuana, they are welcome in Tijuana and they are welcome in Mexico.”
On Sunday, two dueling demonstrations were planned — one demanding the migrants not engage in protests that can close roadways or confrontations with American officials that can cause the closure of ports of entry, and the other criticizing what some perceive as discrimination against the migrants.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have slowly filtered through asylum claims, accepting roughly 100 each day and some from as long as six weeks ago. It is unknown how long the majority of immigrants will have to wait to have their asylum claims managed.