Originally Published in The Los Angeles Times.
By WENDY FRY
JAN 15, 2019
With operations winding down at the large El Barretal migrant shelter in eastern Tijuana and nowhere else to go, families still waiting on “La Lista” are becoming increasingly desperate to present themselves to U.S. immigration officials and ask for asylum.
Immigrants who arrive at the Mexican entrance to San Ysidro sign up for an informal waiting list and take a number scribbled out on a scrap of paper they carefully guard, sometimes for months while they wait for their turn in line.
“If our number is not called tomorrow, we will have no other place to go,” said Victoria Rodriguez of Honduras, who said she was going to physically wait in line Tuesday even though there were about 50 people in front of her and the U.S. only takes a dozen or so people a day to consider for asylum.
“We’re stressed. I’m stressed. The kids are sick and we’ve been waiting for two months. My kids aren’t getting any better and the rain isn’t helping,” she said.
Rodriguez said she was told by shelter coordinators since Jan. 1 the shelter would close on Jan. 15. But, she found out Monday her family may be able stay an extra week, if they don’t get across into the United States, as planned.
“Thank God,” she said. “God has carried us this far.”
As Monday night’s downpour drenched their last remaining belongings and mud began puddling at their feet, Victoria, her husband and their two young children packed to leave El Barretal, their home for the last few months.
The muddy conditions Monday were a reminder of the family’s arrival in Tijuana when about 6,000 members of a Central American caravan arrived near the U.S. Mexico border, overwhelming city resources. Heavy November rains turned a city-run shelter near the border into a mud pit.
The Rodriguez family fled Honduras after another family member was found killed near their home and after receiving death threats and demands for money from gangs.
Near the border Monday, dozens upon dozens of other families had similar stories as they waited for their turn in line.
One single mother had been waiting with her youngest child, a 6-year-old, since last week when a warehouse shelter near the border was shuttered by Mexican federal police because of health concerns.
“Today’s the day,” said Claudia Hernandez, keeping her daughter’s spirits up with silly dances. “I just feel it.”
Her daughter entertained a large group of people waiting for their turn with “Chuchuwa” a dance for children that involves a series of commands like saluting, making a fist, throwing your head back, and walking like a penguin.
Then, as children do, she repeated it so many times, a Mexican immigration official joked he would offer to take the pair across himself if she chose a different song to play.
In Tijuana, migrants themselves take turns guarding the list in a notebook with the help from Mexican immigration officials who alert shelter authorities when a family’s number in line is nearing so they know to make their way to the border.
But for days, Hernandez has refused to leave the immediate border area for another shelter because she did not want to miss her name being called or accidentally give up her spot in line.
Monday her determination paid off. Hernandez and her daughter piled into a van late Monday afternoon, exchanging glances with other migrants, none of whom knew what was coming next.
What number has been called and how many people they processed for the day quickly spreads by word of mouth across Tijuana from shelter to shelter each day.
The makeshift system does not guarantee anyone will be granted asylum. It only allows for an initial presentation to U.S. immigration officials, which is required under international law. The actual process is long and difficult, and receiving asylum under U.S. law is rare.
Back at El Barretal, hundreds more will wait for their number to be called in coming weeks, even if they have to relocate while they wait.
Catherine Lizbet Orellana Ramos from El Salvador is number 1949 while U.S. officials on Monday called number 1708 to 1728.
“If people knew what we did to get here and why we did it, they would see why we aren’t giving up so easy,” said Ramos, who is about one-month pregnant. “My boyfriend’s brother’s body was dumped right outside his door. We walked here through rain and hungry and scared. We’ll wait.”