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Migrants Strain Tijuana Resources As They Try To Get Into The U.S.


Busloads of Central American migrants are arriving daily at the northern Mexican border city of Tijuana. For weeks, the so-called migrant caravan, made up mostly of Hondurans, has been coming northward toward the United States border. And now that many are arriving, many people there say they will apply for asylum or seek work in the United States. For the moment, though, they're in Mexico. And NPR's Carrie Kahn in Tijuana reports their arrival is straining Tijuana's resources and, in some circles, provoking anger.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Jacqueline Cardona (ph), her husband and three small children just arrived at a church-run shelter in Tijuana. They've been traveling from Honduras for weeks with the caravan. The shelter's just blocks from the huge steel fence separating this Mexican border city in San Diego, Calif.

JACQUELINE CARDONA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "On the one hand, I'm so relieved to have finally made it here," she says, as her 3-year-old daughter with a terrible cough clutches her leg. On the other hand, she says, she's terrified.

CARDONA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I got my kids out of harm's way, out of a place where they were going to get killed alongside me. But now I feel like I just put them at risk again. We've gone whole days without food," she says. Cardona says she left Honduras after witnessing a brutal murder. The killers told her and her husband they were next. She says she's heard President Trump's tough rhetoric against the caravan and about families being separated.

CARDONA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I don't want to be separated from my kids, and I can't take the chance of them sending me back to Honduras, either. I don't know what to do," she says. Cardona is among the hundreds of migrants who've been arriving daily in Tijuana. City officials say nearly 2,000 have come this week alone and that thousands more are on their way. On the U.S. side, officials have been reinforcing, or what they call hardening, the border all week here, closing several vehicle traffic lanes into San Diego and soldering barbed wire atop the steel border fence running between the two cities...


KAHN: ...Like in this section of the border, where the towering wall runs right into the Pacific Ocean. Thirty-two-year-old Jesus Villanueva (ph) sits on the beach where some of the migrants have been camping out. They watch the welders work as sparks fly over the wall into the Tijuana sand. Villanueva says his goal is to get to New York.

JESUS VILLANUEVA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "My family told me to come. They say there's plenty of work for me," he says. Villanueva says he can do all types of construction jobs, and the booming U.S. economy is providing plenty these days. He says he'll find a smuggler that will get him past the border guards. Twenty-two-year-old Melvin Callejas (ph), also from Honduras, says he can't afford a smuggler. He's stripped down to his underwear after swimming in the cold ocean waves. He says he hasn't had a shower in days. He, too, was headed for a job in New York.

MELVIN CALLEJAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We're determined to get across the border. We just want to work," he says, looking toward the tall fence.

CALLEJAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Callejas says, "even if we have to die doing it." City and state officials say they're doing their best to accommodate the busloads of migrants arriving daily. Baja California's governor has asked federal officials for about $4 million to house as many as 5,000 migrants for months. Tijuana officials converted a city stadium into a shelter for about 500 people but say they're limited without those federal funds. The prospect of thousands more migrants arriving has put some Tijuana residents on edge.



KAHN: A crowd of local residents in Tijuana's affluent beachfront neighborhood protested the caravan, chanting, we want security, and, don't let any more come. They say city officials aren't protecting them from possible criminals and vandalism. Anxiety isn't limited to residents. Other migrants who've been in the city for months are concerned, too.

Twenty-year-old Santiago Allen (ph) flips through the pages of names of migrants who are waiting their turn to enter the U.S. border station and legally petition for asylum. U.S. officials process at most a hundred people a day. Allen, who is from Honduras and says he fled after getting death threats, has been waiting for his turn for more than a month. Currently, there are more than 2,000 people on the list.

SANTIAGO ALLEN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "This is the only place where you can legally request asylum," he says. "We just want to make sure everything is orderly and that no one tries to skip to the front of the line." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tijuana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.