Border Report - Context and Orientation
Monday was MPT's first full day in Tijuana. The team spent the day connecting with partners to discuss the work ahead, meeting with friends from the Unified U.S. Deported Veterans, and visiting Las Playas de Tijuana where the border wall reaches out into the ocean like a long finger pointing toward freedom and a world without walls. Throughout the week, the team will be posting short reports on what we are witnessing and doing at the border. Upon return, team members will offer more detailed accounts of the situation on the ground. These daily posts are offered as brief snapshots of what is happening here. The day began with the news that Mexico was sending 15, 000 troops to the northern U.S.- Mexico border in response to pressure from the Trump administration. This was followed by reports that a migrant father and his 23-month-old daughter drowned a migrant father and his 23-month-old daughter drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande. These realities, along with the ongoing rash of stories detailing the horrid conditions in U.S. immigration detention facilities and the ongoing manufactured humanitarian crisis at the border, provide some of the context for the work of MPT's June Border Team.
After orienting ourselves and being brought up to date on the situation at the border and beyond for those seeking asylum, the team visited the office of the Unified Deported U.S. Veterans and Veterans for Peace Tijuana. These veterans, who are dealing with the trauma of war, detention, and deportation, have been waging a mighty struggle to return home to their families and friends in the U.S. As Hector, one of the deported vets, says: "If I died tonight, my ashes could be returned to the States where I would be given a full military funeral, yet while I'm alive I can't return to the only home I know . . . I'm an American." Although the injustice of being deported after having served in the military has been devastating for each veteran, collectively they have built a strong and loving community here in Tijuana where, in addition to their advocacy work, they offer support to newly-deported vets and direct aid to migrants living in Tijuana's shelters.
When MPT was here in February, the team was invited by the veterans to place a peace team at a march they were co-sponsoring with a local Muslim group. This team plans on accompanying the vets later in the week as they offer humanitarian relief to migrants. Individual team members are also arranging meetings with their elected officials back home in order to raise the issue of justice for these deported vets and offer an eye witness report of what is happening on the U.S. - Mexico border..
After leaving the vets' office, the team went to Las Playas de Tijuana where the wall that separates Tijuana from San Diego stretches out into the ocean. This is where Friendship Park is located, the site where the deported vets organize weekly bi-national church services. This is also the site where Pat Nixon famously stated that she wished the barbed wire fence that separates the people of two such friendly nations would be cut down.
This area, which once provided a space for families on both sides of the border to connect with one another, is now highly restricted and monitored by U.S. Border Patrol. Today Friendship Park is open for only a few hours on weekends to ten people at a time, a far cry from the vision of unity articulated by the former First Lady.
Despite draconian policies to keep people separated, the wall has become a place of resistance and hope. This is where deported veterans have painted their names onto the iron slats of the wall and where the ugliness of separation has been transformed into a beautiful statement of shared humanity through art and gardens and creative expressions of solidarity. The team's last visit of the day to the Tijuana's Border Angels office and migrant shelter that hug the beach at Las Playas. MPT learned that earlier in the afternoon, ten Mexican soldiers conducted a raid on the shelter, arresting two men. The team wonders if this raid has anything to do with the day's news about Mexican troops being sent to the U.S. - Mexico border. The team will keep in touch with Border Angels and post updates.
Early tomorrow morning the team will report to El Chaparral at the U.S. point of entry (POE) to provide human rights monitoring and a peaceful presence. This is where those seeking asylum line up early in the morning in order to be placed on a waiting list as part of a "metering" process that is in violation of international and U.S. law. Others, having waited weeks or even months after being placed on the list, also gather at El Chaparral in the hope that their numbers will be called that day. Those whose names are announced will then board a bus that will take them on a hellish journey that begins with being held in the hielera (ice box) for processing. From there, these asylum seekers will step into an uncertain future that may include family separation, detention, and being sent back to Mexico. Resources: Al Otro Lado Border Rights Project: https://alotrolado.org/programs/border-rights-project/ Refugee Blockade: The Trump Administration's Obstruction of Asylum Claims at the Border (Human Rights First Fact Sheet) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/December_Border_Report.pdf