Welcome, Protest, and Trauma on the Border

Wall mural Nogales McIntosh

Border wall mural, photo by Jonathan McIntosh, used under Creative Commons license

Dueling demonstrations hit Tijuana as Mayor Juan Gastélum, wearing a red, Trump-style, “Make Tijuana Great Again” hat denounced Honduran migrants arriving in the caravan. While protesters generated fear among the migrants sheltering in a sports facility, other Tijuana residents welcomed the caravan.

“Many in Tijuana, however, are angered by the demonstrators’ anti-immigrant sentiment.

“F***ing racists!” shouted a man from a street corner.

“Say that to my face,” a protester yelled back.

“A few blocks ahead, a family stood on their balcony and shouted at the protesters.

“This is not what Tijuana is like,” cried an elderly woman. “All migrants are welcome here!”

The mayor’s Trump-like hostility may be an attempt to drum up support: his approval rating stands at an abysmal four percent.

All along their route, Mexicans have welcomed and aided the migrants in the caravan, but the problem of housing and feeding migrants as they wait to cross the border is real.

“Tensions have built as nearly 3,000 migrants from a caravan that has been travelling through Central America poured into Tijuana in recent days. The federal government estimates the number of migrants could soon swell to 10,000.

“US border inspectors are processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana’s main crossing to San Diego. Asylum seekers register their names in a tattered notebook managed by migrants themselves that had more than 3,000 names even before the caravan arrived.”

Delay remains the order of the day for the administration’s processing of migrant applications and claims. A lawsuit filed in Manhattan last week charges that delays violate due process, and traces the growth of the time between arrest and initial appearance before a judge from a wait of 12 days in 2014 to 42 days in 2017 to 80 days in July 2018.

Lest we forget: the system hurts real people, who are already experiencing real suffering. Writing in The Guardian, a war correspondent describes the trauma of migrant families, on both sides of the border, and of the lawyers and social workers who try to help. This is a long read, and painful, but also an important window into the lives of people struggling to find safety in the United States.

For Nora, who’s from Honduras, it was her six-year-old son who first showed signs of severe trauma. The boy had forgotten how to speak. Ever since Nora had awoken Alex and his two brothers in the middle of the night and fled their home, she’d noticed him slipping. They’d fled from the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang which now terrorizes Central America, having been formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by migrants who settled there after fleeing the US-backed civil war in El Salvador and violence in Guatemala and Honduras, only to be deported back to their countries.

“Nora and her boys had covered more than 3,500 miles, across Guatemala to Tijuana and now to Nuevo Laredo, in north-eastern Mexico. Along the way, Alex had grown agitated and was constantly afraid. He had nightmares about his father, who had disappeared back home, and was wetting the bed. And his sentences, once rapid and cartwheeling, had become choppy and unformed, as if trauma was editing him down to a toddler….

“or Nora and her boys, everyday life back in Honduras had been a minefield of traumatic experience. In their sprawling colonia along the Caribbean coast, the MS-13 gang ruled by fear and murder….

“Kids as young as 10 were taken by the gang to serve as police lookouts, or “chivas”, regarded as little more than fodder. She says one of the men had already approached her husband about taking their oldest boy, so Nora and her husband had started paying 1,500 lempira a month (about $62) just to keep him and his brother in school. When Nora’s cousin had refused to work for the gang, some chivas had punished her by cutting off her breasts. “The police do nothing,” she said. “They’re outgunned.”  

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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