Category: Mexico / Tijuana

The Last Frontier

In the U.S., President Barack Obama wants to give legal status to eleven million immigrants by granting them citizenship. Meanwhile, in Tijuana, approximately ten thousand people are sleeping in the streets or in burrows along the river that marks the border, waiting to get past it either legally or illegally. “Many of the people living here have been forced to leave the U.S. and will not give up on the idea of returning.” Fr. Ernesto Hernandez Ruiz, a Salesian, runs the “Padre Chava” refectory that prepares meals for Tijuana’s destitute, most of whom are migrants. He serves a thousand meals six days a week. The Salesians are present in many of the cities located along the border that separates Mexico from the U.S.: Mexicali, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Ciudad Acuna, Piedras Negra and Nuevo Laredo, which are mainly used as transit routes for merchandise (and drugs). But, for the Salesians, Tijuana is more important because this is where most human movement takes place. Ever since the prohibition era, California’s residents see Tijuana as a city that has gone off the rails. Once you’ve crossed the border, it’s all about alcohol and no limits, at low prices. Mexico, on the other hand, sees it as the city of hope, of dreams and of a better future. But, for many, that dream ends up crashing against the big wall. “We guarantee the destitute a meal because those who go hungry are capable of anything,” Fr. Ernesto said. He is well aware of the fact that human traffickers are very active in Tijuana. Crossing the border costs about $1,000 and those who cannot pay it all in one go incurs a debt which then has to be paid back once they reach the U.S. and find a job. If people do not pay up, their families back in Mexico pay the price. “We try to persuade migrants not to stay here, Fr. Ernesto explained, but to go back to their country of origin. We have even signed agreements with transport companies so that they can travel back at discounted prices. But it is not easy because they will not accept defeat after spending their whole lives dreaming of a better life in the United States.”  It is eight o’clock in the morning and food is being handed out. Fr. Ernesto has to go. There are hundreds of people waiting in line. The queue which stretches for about one kilometer seems never–ending, as always. It tails off in the center of Tijuana, between Avenues Melchor Ocampo and Internacional. The wall is just a few meters from there. The elderly, women, children and men (there were mostly men) who turned up today got something to eat. Tomorrow, who knows? 

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