MEXICALI, Mexico — More than a thousand Central American migrants have crowded into shelters in the town of Mexicali on the California-Mexico border this weekend, after Mexican police blocked their buses from proceeding to Tijuana, where another 2,400 caravan members have converged.
The migrants hoped to reunite in Tijuana with the people they had traversed Mexico with over the past month. Some said they planned to search for work in Tijuana, one of the country’s largest and fastest growing cities. Some said they would seek asylum in the United States, while others said they would consider continuing on to Canada or another country that would give them work permits.
But Mexican federal police prevented the buses from continuing along the highway to Tijuana because Mexico’s westernmost border city — 100 miles away — is already full of migrants, according to Gustavo Pacheco Aguilar, who runs a shelter in Mexicali called Grupo de Ayuda Para el Migrante de Mexicali.
More migrants were on their way to Mexicali. About 270 migrants aboard six buses were expected to arrive in Mexicali on Saturday night or Sunday morning, according to federal police. Some caravan members said they expected 1,800 more people to arrive in coming days; Pacheco Aguilar said he expected as many as 5,000. Mexicali sits just across the border from the California city of Calexico.
President Donald Trump has been largely silent on the migrant caravan heading to the border since making it a major campaign issue in the midterm elections. But on Saturday night he blasted the migrant caravan.
“Isn’t it ironic that large Caravans of people are marching to our border wanting U.S.A. asylum because they are fearful of being in their country – yet they are proudly waving their country’s flag. Can this be possible? Yes, because it is all a BIG CON, and the American taxpayer is paying for it!” he said.
On Saturday night, an estimated 600 migrants filled the Hotel del Migrante in Mexicali. Inside, foam mattresses covered in plastic lined the hallways. In one large room packed with camping tents and mattresses, young men sprawled on the floor, played cards and charged their mobile phones.
Another three dozen people slept on foam mattresses along the sidewalk outside the shelter, even though the shelter wasn’t at capacity.
Some migrants at the shelter said they hoped to catch a bus to Tijuana on Sunday or Monday. Others, like Jessica Rodas of Honduras, said they planned to walk there — a journey that would require them to walk along La Rumorosa, a notoriously dangerous highway that crosses the Sierra de Juarez Mountains.
“For this reason, we decided to wait for everyone and go as one group, just as we came here,” Rodas said.
But first, Rodas’ daughters, 3-year-old Dezelynn and 5-year-old Ana, needed to rest. They’d been sick and coughing for the entire month-long journey, she said. At the shelter, Rodas and her extended family of four other adults and four children shared a room big enough for one bunk bed and three mattresses on the floor.
Rodas said she had worked in a tortillería in Tijuana for a few months this summer. She hoped to return to her job and eventually earn residency in Mexico.
Marvin Flores of Honduras said he was determined to leave the Mexicali shelter, where he said some people were using drugs and where someone tried to steal his phone, and get to Tijuana.
“There will be rides or we’ll walk there, like we’ve always done,” Flores said.
He said he had been deported from the United States earlier in the year, so he was considering remaining in Tijuana to work.
“If there’s an opportunity to go to Canada or another country… I would happily do that,” he said.
Nearby, the 285 caravan members staying at the shelter Grupo de Ayuda para el Migrante were holding mass. Shelter operator Pacheco Aguilar said the group had decided to push off to Tijuana on Monday, whether by bus or on foot.
The migrants left San Pedro Sula, Honduras, about a month ago, fleeing poverty, gang violence and lawlessness. The group — which at its peak included some 7,000 people according to estimates by United Nations officials — has trekked through heat and hitched harrowing rides on the sides of trucks and tractor trailers.
By the time the caravan reached Mexico City in early November, the caravan had shrunk to about 5,000. The group rested in a stadium in Mexico’s capital before leaving late last week to finish the journey.
As of Saturday morning, nearly 2,400 members of the migrant caravan were staying at a Tijuana sports complex that had been converted into a temporary migrant shelter. One government official said the shelter could handle another 1,000 migrants. The facility has indoor and outdoor sleeping areas, portable bathrooms and makeshift bathing areas.
Rebecca Plevin covers immigration for The Desert Sun. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @rebeccaplevin.
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