TIJUANA, México — Crowding and unsanitary conditions are getting worse at informal camps set up in northern Mexico by asylum seekers waiting to make asylum claims in the United States.
U.S. President Joe Biden has abandoned some of former president Donald Trump’s hardline policies, most notably one that forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. Biden has also partly eased a pandemic-related ban on seeking legal asylum.
But more asylum seekers are heading to the border, and many of them still can’t cross. They have wound up at impromptu camps like the one in El Chaparral, near Tijuana, amid filth and a lack of services. The camp blocks pedestrian paths near one of the border crossings between Tijuana and San Diego.
Hundreds of families are living under plastic tarps, without bathrooms and at the mercy of the elements and the vicious gangs that roam the area.
“The children are getting sick with diarrhea, they’re getting fevers and infections because there are a lot of flies around,” said Karitina Hernández, 63. Hernández’s entire family — six adults and three children — fled the southern state of Guerrero because of violence there.
They have been living for weeks in a tent in El Chaparral, along with about 2,000 migrants from Mexico, Haiti and Central America.
“There is no sanitation, there is garbage around, excrement, urine,” Hernández, who fled her home after a gang killed one of her sons and threatened her. “I came blindly, fleeing what had happened to me.”
Mexico’s governmental National Human Rights Commission issued a warning weeks ago about the conditions at the camps. Municipal authorities in Tijuana say they want to close it down, but many of the migrants and asylum-seekers fear if they go somewhere else, they might lose their chance at getting into the United States.
Biden has abandoned a policy that forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. He has also eased a pandemic-related ban on seeking legal asylum.
Shortly after taking office, Biden exempted unaccompanied children from Title 42, named for a section of an obscure 1944 public health law that allows authorities to deny entry to prevent the spread of disease.
The big camp of asylum seekers that once existed farther east along the border in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, was dismantled in March.
But amid a fresh rush of people to the border, local shelters in places like Tijuana ran out of room.
Armando Hernández, a bricklayer who fled the violence-plagued state of Michoacán with his two sons, aged 16 and 17, wonders how they will ever get across.
“What proof do I need? To come here with my guts shot out?” said Hernández, who is not related to Karitina.
Nicole Ramos, an activist with the migrant-aid group “Al Otro Lado,” says asylum seekers and migrants at such camps are vulnerable to kidnapping and extortion by criminal gangs.
“The United States says its laws and programs are there to protect the migrant community from traffickers, but now they are doing even more business,” Ramos said.