By Chris Stone
The planned shutdown of the government-run El Barretal migrant shelter in Tijuana could spell chaos for many, says the outreach coordinator for San Diego-based Border Angels.
“Thousands of people will be suffering in the streets, homeless. I don’t know how to address that,” Leticia Guzman said Sunday. “It’s going to be crazy.”
The Chula Vista resident has been shadowing migrants who first were placed at the Benito Juarez sports complex that was closed due to unhealthy conditions after flooding in early December.
More than 2,000 migrants are at El Barretal — the only government-run shelter. It’s about 11 miles from the border.
Many are waiting to apply for asylum in the United States or Mexico. Others are staying until they attempt to cross any way they can.
Last week, a second government shelter, a warehouse near the Benito Juarez site, was closed and migrants were bused to El Barretal, a former concert hall.
Guzman questioned why more and more migrants are being relocated to the shelter slated to be closed as early as mid-January. (Border Angels also supports nine other shelters, all privately owned.)
She said she was told that most shelter residents had applied for asylum in Mexico and received work visas, so officials felt the migrants no longer needed shelter assistance.
But the coordinator questions the “most” estimate and fears migrants will be sent out on the streets to fend for themselves.
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“We’re trying to fight against it,” Guzman told Times of San Diego in a phone interview. “It’s a mess.”
News reports describe violence against migrants, including someone lobbing a teargas canister into the shelter Dec. 18. No one was seriously injured in the incident, police said.
Guzman said she witnessed Mexican residents throwing rocks at migrants as they slept at Benito Juarez.
It will take a great effort by nonprofit groups such as Border Angels to assist the migrants since both the Mexico and U.S. governments have been “working against them,” she said.
Border Angels volunteers have brought donations to 10 shelters in Tijuana for years, recently helping migrants from Honduras and other Central American countries.
The nonprofit has organized Caravans of Love to bring donations and services of health professionals to the shelters each Saturday.
Saturday, as 40 volunteers gathered at Border Angels headquarters in Sherman Heights, a moment of silence was held for the two children who died in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody and for a migrant who drowned while trying to swim around the border fence in Imperial Beach.
A backpack was found on the beach near the border fence.
“We’ve identified him and given the information to the Mexican Consulate, so his family can be advised,” said Border Angels founder and director Enrique Morones.“We tell people: Don’t risk your life crossing through the ocean or the desert. … Since we began putting water in the desert in 1996, more than 11,000 people have died on both sides of the border, mostly on the U.S. side.”
After listening to a talk by Morones, volunteers loaded their cars with donations bound for five shelters in Tijuana.
At El Barretal, volunteers entered the shelter to ascertain the needs of individuals in the camps. Then they went to their cars to bring the items.
That was problematic because migrants and residents in the areas ran to the cars and swarmed the opened doors for donations.
Volunteers checked El Barretal IDs to ensure the donations ended up in the hands of the intended recipients — not those seeking to get the items for resale.
Migrants have voiced skepticism about distribution of donations within the shelter, and Morones said migrants have asked the volunteers to give out donations to individuals.
“It’s been hard to find a system to distribute,” Guzman said. Thousands of migrants there have needs.
“Necesito Zapatos! Necesito Zapatos! Leche para niños!” people shouted, seeking shoes and milk for children.
Many migrants wore flip-flops, sandals and shower shoes. Some had traveled in their current pair since the caravan left more than two months ago.
Shoes, socks, underwear, one- and two-person tents and trash bags are among the most needed items at El Barretal, Guzman said. Volunteers also brought diapers, blankets, tarps, baby formula and hygiene items.
Inside, single migrants sleep in bedrolls on the concrete of the courtyard, while families huddle in tents propped up by wooden pallets.
Guzman told how one young unaccompanied minor hopped between tents, catching a nap here and there during the day until he was discovered by the occupant and kicked out to move to the next tent, Guzman said.
They are served hot meals at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and shower facilities are available.
World Central Kitchen has provided meals in Tijuana shelters and World Vision health workers check on the migrants.
For security, shelter IDs are checked upon re-entrance and Mexican Marines patrol the site.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he would grant about 100,000 work permits to Central American migrants. Meanwhile, President Trump has been working on a plan to force migrants to stay in Mexico until asylum proceedings are complete.
People interested in donating can contact Border Angels at (619) 269-7865 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $31,000. Or go to the Walmart registry to buy items for Border Angels.
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