Originally published by The New Yorker
What will happen to the migrant caravan as its members arrive, more of them every day, in Tijuana, Mexico, across the border from San Diego? U.S. customs officials in San Diego are currently processing only about a hundred asylum claims a day. (Making asylum seekers sit and wait on the Mexican side of the border has been a Trump Administration tactic for months.) Even before the caravan’s members started arriving, the line to get into America to claim asylum from Tijuana was about three thousand people long. Now a few thousand members of the caravan are in town, with several thousand more close behind them. Smaller caravans that popped up in the first caravan’s wake are also making their way north. It’s possible that ten thousand migrants will soon be in Tijuana, a city of 1.6 million, without jobs, overwhelming the city’s shelter system, facing the prospect of a months-long wait to get over the border. This weekend, hundreds of local residents gathered to protest the migrants’ presence in the city. In Washington, meanwhile, Donald Trump continues to demagogue about the migrants. His Administration continues to take steps to make matters worse, not better, at the border. And, on December 1st, a new President—Andrés Manuel López Obrador—will take office in Mexico. The situation is volatile, and without historical precedent.
“You’re likely going to see a protracted humanitarian crisis in Tijuana,” The New Yorker’sJonathan Blitzer, who spent time with the caravan last month, said when we spoke on Monday. “They’re stuck in this compressed corridor between two countries.” That so many caravan members made it to Tijuana vindicated the logic of the caravan itself. The migrants, who set out with little food or water or money, managed to travel thousands of miles without being stopped or shaken down by drug cartels, smugglers, or government officials. And the attention they received in many ways helped speed their journey through Mexico, as aide groups from near and far came to help them. “Mexican state authorities were only too happy to do right by these migrants,” Blitzer said. “Both because they wanted to do the right thing and, also, the faster you got the caravan through your state, the faster you could get out of the way of this political skirmish in terms of what to do with the caravan.” Now, though, the same migrants face circumstances at least as hard as the journey was. The Trump Administration has declared that migrants who don’t cross the border at official ports of entry won’t be allowed to apply for asylum—a policy change that is already being challenged in court by the A.C.L.U. and other groups—but officials aren’t sending more resources to those same ports of entry to deal with more arrivals. “If there were a genuine concern to ease the asylum process for people who enter the ‘right way,’ there would be things the Administration could do, and it’s not doing them,” Blitzer said. In Tijuana, the protests against the migrants have been small thus far, but the antagonism is real—Trump’s rhetoric about the dangers of the caravan might be having just as much of an effect on Tijuanans as on Republican voters. And there’s a sense, Blitzer said, that the Mexican government is helping these Central American migrants in ways that are not offered to Mexicans themselves. “The mayor of Tijuana is making worrisome noises that this isn’t a situation they can sustain,” Blitzer said.