Desperation in Tijuana

I left Tijuana yesterday afternoon.

As I was leaving, there were police amassing, a growing helicopter presence overhead, and Federal Police with heavy weapons driving in.

It was clear that something was developing. It seemed to me that this preparation was far less intense, however, than the Mexican military unit that had set up a checkpoint in a back alley neighborhood between the baseball stadium functioning as a displacement camp and the San Ysidro Border Crossing I was waking toward.

Their goal, as it most usually is my local friend told me, were the cartels. We chuckled talking about how the migrants had brought so much attention to the neighborhood that it was becoming somehow safer from the cartels and gangs who usually control the area.

Today, I am witnessing from an airport terminal with anxiety that some of the migrants broke from an otherwise peaceful demonstration and attempted to rush the border fence and were fired on with rubber bullets and tear gas.

I was reading an account from Washington Post Reporters Sarah Kinosian and Joshua Partlow and saw the story of Maria Lousia Caceres who recounted that, “We thought it was a peaceful march today, but then I saw everyone running and I thought, This is it, God will touch Trump’s heart.”

She was referring to an idea that is popular among the migrants. Many very genuinely believe that in showing their need in a peaceful way, their plight will touch and change the US President’s position and allow these asylum seekers immediate refuge.

Another migrant, according to the report, Alex Alemendaros noted, “It [attempted fence hopping] just gets people mad at us and I want asylum.”

This pervading tension among the migrants about what they believe is true, what to do next, or what is even realistic about their situation is a common theme I noticed during my trip.

It was clear that some of these migrants were attempting to band and stay together with unified and peaceful cause, while some, like a mother of 3 children I met, has been on the run for only a few days after a gang assaulted her family. She would go anywhere or do anything that was safe. While even others were tired of waiting and getting restless, frustrated, and impatient after months of traveling.

One reality is common, as Alex objectively noted, “Desperation has lead some people to really believe that crossing is possible.”

I’ve been speaking with a member of the migrants, my new friend Nelson Reniery Ruiz Maradiaga, who I interviewed on FaceBook Live while I was in Tijuana.

He was among the larger, peaceful protest of about 3,000 people that was happening in Tijuana, and heard that people were being shot with rubber bullets and tear gas somewhere nearby. He searched the area to find where this was happening, and saw groups of people being engaged as described. He talked with one man who had multiple rubber bullet wounds.

He also said that many of the people have already left the border area to return to the displacement camp.

He was safe now, but like most of his friends he’s just hungry and is looking to move forward. Even just a little hope for the future it seemed.

If there is anything that I could offer to this situation, it would be this perspective:

  • Right now there are about 5,000 migrants seeking refuge from war, violence, and corruption. 
  • There were 80,000 people at the first concert I attended. 
  • There are 2.8 million members of the US Department of Defense with an $717 Billion Budget. 
  • There are over 60,000 Border Patrol Agents in the US with a near $14 Billion Budget.
  • There’s nearly 300,000 members of the Mexican Armed Forces alone, and that’s not counting the police. 
  • There is just no feasible way that this is a legitimate security issue. 

With those numbers in view, I offer my perspective that the overwhelming majority in this group are very desperate people on a journey to provide for themselves and their families.

And that desperation has to be the greatest enemy right now.

Without compassionate hands reaching out to provide the basics like food, warm clothes, and tents, this desperation is leading some of these people to try to take matters into their own hands, risk their lives for something, anything different than starving and freezing in a baseball stadium.

I can’t say I’d be much different.

I can’t help but to wonder if a little love, a little attention, some open ears, some patient thinking, some flights to Tijuana, some food, some tents, might turn the heat down in the pressure cooker that has become Tijuana.

And then maybe, some of the 42 million Americans with our Trillion Dollar GDP, or 12 Million Mexicans, or one of the other billions of people in the world can offer a helping hand to these 5,000 in need. Be good neighbors like we preach about on Sunday mornings, like many preached about this morning.

Is it just me, or is it insanely poetic that Jesus managed to provide for 5,000 people with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish?


Published by Matt Malcom

Author. Speaker. Activist.

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