By Chris Stone
As U.S. Marines flew helicopter patrol over the border, the president of San Diego-based Border Angels Saturday charged Tijuana’s mayor with inciting violence against the 3,000 Central Americans who have reached the city by caravan.
“Now we have Donald Trump Jr. here, the mayor of Tijuana. How dare him call the migrants criminals, bringing diseases. He is promoting violence,” he said at a press conference in the western borough of Playas de Tijuana.
“Hate words lead to hate actions,” said Morones, whose organization assists migrants. “We are not going to tolerate it.”
On Thursday, Gastélum referred to the caravan as a “tsunami” of people that his city would have trouble dealing with and warned the migrants against criminal behavior. The Mexican government estimates that the number of migrants arriving in Tijuana could reach 10,000.
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Tijuana set up a shelter for the migrants in a sports complex, where more than 2,000 of them spent Thursday night.
U.S. border inspectors are processing only 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana’s main crossing to San Diego, according to news reports. More than 3,000 names were on the waiting list before the caravan arrived.
According to news reports, seven arrests have been made, two for disorderly conduct and five for drug consumption.
Gastélum has been quoted as saying: “Supposedly they are fleeing catastrophe, mistreatment in their countries of origin. How is it possible that they arrive here and, if they want, create disorder. It’s not right.”
The mayor also said: “You’re going to tell me we have to respect human rights. But human rights are for law-abiding humans.”
Sara Gurling, past president of Border Angels, also spoke at the press conference just yards from the border fence.
“Those kinds of comments throughout history have led to tragedies that we are all embarrassed of and have spent hundreds of years apologizing for,” she said. “We know that in Germany and all across the world tragedies have happened that they led to millions dying.”
Worried that such comments are being taken literally by hate groups, Gurling said Gastélum’s leadership is needed “now more than ever. Those comments only serve to dehumanize; they are in a very vulnerable situation… His words are so harmful.”
On Wednesday evening, while migrants were gathered and many slept at Playas de Tijuana at the border fence, a group of community members staged an anti-immigrant protest.
Some shouted anti-immigrant slogans and sang Mexico’s national anthem. According to Border Angels worker Hugo Castro, punches were thrown.
The incident was widely reported on social media. Castro videotaped the incident and posted his videos on Facebook.
Castro gave his account of the incident: He and three migrants were hit by “racistas” protesters. When a woman was struck, migrants shouted that they would give their lives to protect themselves.
Castro said neither he nor the caravan members physically retaliated. Later, rocks were thrown at migrants. Although police were present, no arrests were made, he said.
The migrants were then moved to a shelter.
Reports of that incident fueled fear among some Tijuanans and apparently sparked the comments by Gastélum.
Morones said: “It is very important that the people of Tijuana stand up and say no to the hate words of the mayor of Tijuana. Tijuana is known to be a city that welcomes migrants.”
The Border Angels president claims Gastélum’s comments are meant as a distraction from the city’s difficulty in dealing with drug-related murders.
On Sunday, when an anti-immigration march was held in Tijuana, Morones commented on a report that U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan was nearly struck with a large rock Friday night as McAleenan was taking a tour of border defenses added to the wall along Friendship Park.
The rock was thrown from Mexico, according to a local ABC report.
Morones said his group asked many of the regulars at Friendship Park and surrounding area, but “no one saw anything on the “rock throwing incident.”
“We asked,” he told Times of San Diego via email. “I have asked the Mexican Consulate to investigate as well as condemn CBP for flying helicopters into Mexican territory at Playas.”
On Saturday afternoon, no U.S. border agents could be seen on foot near the fence.
Jesus, a Tijuana resident who declined to give his last name, said media coverage of the migrants arrival has made him anxious and fearful of what is to come.
Morones said Saturday that while troublemakers exist in every group, the vast majority of migrants are good people.
On Saturday, Nov. 24, Border Angels will hold a “Caravan of Love,” involving a delegation from Los Angeles including Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo, the author of California Dream Act legislation.
Cedillo and the Coalition of Mexican Migrants, involving 75 nonprofit organizations, announced they would join forces with Border Angels to provide humanitarian relief for the Central American caravans at the Tijuana border.
Physicians from the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of California Irvine will caravan to Tijuana to give medical services to migrants. Donations also will be delivered.
Noting the presence of U.S. troops, Morones said: “We also condemn the militarization of the border. … These people are trained to kill. We don’t want to have military on the border.”
Morones called for supporters to stand up and “show the better angels among us…. That’s why we are here and we are going to continue to be here and support out migrant brethren.”
The Border Angels are assisting six shelters in Tijuana.
Castro said the groups need monetary donations to buy food, diapers, winter clothing, underwear, socks, hygienic products, blankets and tents for the Central American migrants.
Two migrants, who had arrived in Tijuana the day before, stood on the beach and peered through the border wall onto the beaches of the United States. They said they had traveled for 45 days and were pleased to have arrived.
They said they hadn’t received food or water at the shelter where they stayed, but got some money from strangers. They said they fled their country because of extortion, government affiliation with gangs and hoped to find any job in the U.S. to support themselves and their families.
Freddy Mendez, who arrived in the caravan four days ago, also spoke at the press conference.
In Honduras, basic food items are expensive, medicine is scarce and unemployment is high, according to Mendez, whose comments were translated by Castro.
It’s difficult for those living outside of Honduras to see the realities there because the government has shut down the media, Mendez said.
Mendez, 36, described his journey: He walked as many as 12 hours a day for a month to reach Tijuana. Some migrants became ill along the way because of extremes in temperatures from day to night. Some got very little food or rest.
Castro said of the migrants: “These people are victims of forced migration, relatives killed or raped. They don’t have an option. They are running away from death.”
Although the migrants were aware of President Donald Trump’s use of the caravan as a campaign issue and made disparaging remarks about the caravan, Mendez says migrants like him have the support of the majority of people throughout the world.
“The best part is that we know that we have the support of God,” he said.
Updated at 12:15 p.m. Nov. 19, 2018
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