With the declaration of a “national emergency” from the White House, we set out to find out what that looks like on any given day.
Migrants from the Benito Juarez Sports Complex shelter in Zona Norte, Tijuana organized a march in order to demand to be processed for asylum, Sunday Nov. 25.
The march started after leaders of the caravan held a prayer using megaphones. Mexican federal police blocked the entrance to Puente El Chaparral, a bridge that pedestrians and automobiles use to arrive at the border-crossing area. As the migrants approached the police line, a caravan organizer told the group to stop walking.
“If we will be crossing, we will be crossing in peace,” he said.
The marchers stopped and gave thanks to the Mexican state for sheltering them, sang the Mexican national anthem, gave a solidarity cheer with those who participated in the International Day of Action march in San Diego, all while waiting for the police to let through.
After about an hour of waiting, caravan organizers decided to go around the blockade, down a street that runs parallel to the inaccessible bridge. Police immediately began pushing people down with their shields. The migrants gained momentum as the police continued to use force against womxn, childrxn, and journalists.
The migrants crossed the Tijuana riverbed, helping each other keep steady so as to not fall into the water. They arrived at the car port of entry where Mexican military troops watched from above.
The group I was with made their way to the edge of the large parkway that makes up the border entry point. Four migrants scaled the wall that divided Mexico and USA. US forces on the opposite side pointed a high caliber rifle at the young men. The migrant group then sought another area of the border fence.
The migrant group reached another section of the border crossing point, opened the fence and continued through. I was stopped by riot police and not let through. One officer hit me repeatedly with his shield.
During my walk back the way I had came, I witnessed an officer, who was giving orders earlier, continuously beat and harass a migrant. A Mexican checkpoint official alerted the officer that he had a camera on him and the officer ceased to hit the migrant.
Mexican federal police then sealed the border car port leading into the US. Soon, US Department of Homeland Security Special Response Team forces and US military appeared and began to install razor wire, completely sealing the border and announcing that any unauthorized person will be met with lethal force.
I made my way to meet the group of migrants who were being shot with tear gas and rubber bullets through the border fence by US forces. Mexican federal police rallied them up and forced them back into Tijuana city limits. The final image was the last one I could capture before the tear gas effect became too much for my senses.
We arrived to Border Station Parking lot around noon on Saturday, November 17th. Greeted by the chopping sound of a Mexican Federal Police helicopter hovering at the border station across the street, we crossed on foot. Barbed wire that I had never seen at the turnstile entry point hung as a reminder of the situation we were going to document.
A minute into stepping foot on Mexican land, we witnessed a man and woman hugging intensely; the man had tears in his eyes as he clutched the woman close to him, her crying and heavy breathing drew our attention. A man who stood close by mentioned to us that the couple had been deported separately, and that they had no idea where each other was going to be taken. My colleague spoke to the man to get more details, I just observed the pain exiting the couple through tears and soft words that I could not hear against the noise of the city behind me.
I did not raise my camera to photograph them– sometimes the blackbox weighs more than I’m used to.
We caught an Uber to Playas De Tijuana, as that is where I had heard that the caravan was grouped. We arrived and our first action was to scope out the beach area. The majority of people there were not part of the caravan, they were locals and fellow journalists. We spoke to a few journalists from Cal State Fullerton, and another from NBC Los Angeles.
I noticed a few young men walking around the beach and being spoken to by the NBC journalist, that’s when I figured that the young men were Honduran migrants.
I listened in on their interview, the three Hondurans were soft-spoken. I could make out certain words, but decided to ask for an interview after they were done.
Upon hearing about the caravan, Leonel photographed his home that had been burnt down by MS-13, and began his journey as part of the migrant caravan. He expressed to us his wish to not be photographed.
He hopes to gain legal entry into the US by seeking asylum.
After our interview with him, we walked over to the Border Angels office that we had spotted along the ridge at the top of the beach. We met Enrique Morones, the founder and director of the Border Angels organization. Through him and his staff member, Hugo Castro, we learned of key locations to arrive at.
After photographing a bit at Friendship Park and learning that most of the caravan members had been dispersed throughout Tijuana at shelters, we called an Uber to take us to the first location that Border Angels suggested we check out in our search for the migrants.
Templo Embajadores De Jesús in Divina Providencia was our first stop. Southeast of Playas De Tijuana, the driver took us deeper into a noticeably less-developed area of town. The driver, a man in his late 20s, mentioned to us that he felt empathy for the migrants of this caravan because displacement is traumatic for those who experience it.
The scenery went from white-painted, beach-facing homes, to half-built, unpainted habitations. An occasional pedestrian would cross my vision and I noticed that they were mostly Black. I asked the driver about the Haitian community and he said that we were actually heading into one of the main shelters for them. This puzzled me as we were looking for Central American migrant shelters, yet were directed to one that the locals know for housing Haitian migrants.
Our ride ended on a dirt road surrounded by a seemingly endless population of roosters, some pigs, and a man who sat outside of his ranch with a welcoming smile.
We walked up to the shelter, a simple concrete structure with a banner that read “TEMPLO EMBAJADEROS DE JESÚS” and an image of white stairs with a golden doorway at the top of the stairs.
A woman opened the door for us and we asked if this was the shelter that housed Central American migrants. They said that the Central American people had been there two days ago, but never returned after that. This led to more questions on our end, but the curiosity was cut short when we walked into the kitchen/dining hall area because of the three Haitian women who were preparing food and the four kids that were running around. All three of us had heard about the Haitian community in Tijuana, but to come across it without searching for it was a wholesome surprise. We conversed about their journey and what they were cooking, the children swarmed around me, enraptured by my camera.
We decided to continue our work after saying goodbye to the Haitians who welcomed us.
We arrived at the Benito Juarez sports complex, the Uber driver warned us not to walk around Zona Norte, which is where the complex is, after-hours. The sports complex is the largest shelter for the migrant caravan in Tijuana. As of Saturday, it was over its capacity of 1,000 people. Officials told us it was holding 1,500 migrants.
We walked through, interviewing few, mostly observing as we recognized that being in front of a camera can be exhausting for individuals.
Conditions were kept up by volunteers and state officials. Upon speaking to migrants, the most apparent need expressed to us was the need for cell phones; many of them wanted to see the faces of those they left back home, even if it was just on a 4.5 inch screen of a cell phone.
Police outside told us that they were not looking to make arrests, only to uphold safety.
We left after sundown and crossed into the United States on foot.
This story will develop via informal blog pieces such as this one and journalistic pieces as well.
Johanna Toruño, womxn of color, fierce advocate for street art, and the creator of The Unapologetically Brown Series gives us some insight during the Brown Mijas Pop Up event, to the series that took on its own life, and what it means for her to advocate for the creators of culture.
Tell me who and what is The Unapologetically Brown Series.
“The Unapologetically Brown Series is a body of work, a creation that has its own life now. It started with a Soundcloud project; I was writing poetry at the time and I realized giving people Soundcloud links is not a viable way to share my artwork. I decided to turn literally everything that I was doing into public art. I’m from El Salvador, I grew up in the 90s where we were in the aftermath of the civil war, so we had a lot of public art that was really emotional and political. When I was 15, I tried to start a gay-straight alliance club at my high school but they said ‘no’. They had a hunting club and I ended up making a poster that said something about it being hypocritical to have a hunting club and not a gay-straight alliance club and putting it in the hallway. That obviously invoked a reaction out of people. Two years ago I remembered that putting my work in public has worked for me before, let’s see what happens this time.”
What does it mean to reclaim space and why is it important to do so?
“We folks of color, are in these spaces at all times. We are the creators and curators of this space, we are the way culture is made. A lot of the times, we don’t see the credit for that on the street. You’ll see Nike ads with the Jenners wearing the Cortez’s, we know the history of the Cortez, so when you see a white face put to it, it’s celebrated, romanticized. My train of thought is to reclaim that autonomy of POC and celebrate that life. That’s why my work is in public; museums and galleries may not be necessarily interested in my work, but I’ve made the streets into my own museum and my gallery, and I have the attention from the folks I really want it from. Not the validation from big, elitist museums. I think culturally it’s important for us to not just reclaim it, but to feel safe and empowered to be in that space.
With the current political climate, why is it that we feel uncomfortable and why is it important now more than ever to do the work that you’re doing or similar things?
“For me, it’s not been about ‘now it’s more important than before’, it’s kind of always been a situation. It’s been an issue since colonization. However, now there’s a bigger and more direct way to send messages. It’s not that we’ve been it in before any less, it’s just that now there’s a different way to speak out.
How do womxn of color not have enough representation?
“Representation isn’t enough, first of all. We have to acknowledge that women of color are curators of culture. We make the world go round and people need to acknowledge that.”
Can you speak to the issue of institutionalized racism/oppression in relation to what you create?
“Obviously, there’s a reason why I do what I do. If we didn’t have any systemic, structuralized or internalized racism, then maybe my work wouldn’t be necessarily needed, right? But we are in a situation where the system is not broken. Bottom line, the system is not designed for us.”
As an artist and womxn of color, where do you feel is your role in creating change?
“That is something I’m still learning every day. I think when we see women of color, femmes of color, who are successful in their work, we automatically put these expectations without giving them/us the information about how to handle the positions that we’re in. Then when we don’t succeed all the time, we‘re thrown under the bus quickly. It’s really important for me to be in community with folks that I’m creating for. If the hood doesn’t agree with what I’m doing, then I’m not doing it right. It’s important to keep dialogue in space with people, and this is a way [referring to the pop-up event which the interview was held at].”
What is a success to you in regards to the struggle you and/or womxn of color are in?
“Being able to create space with folks like this, to be in spaces like this and share being in community.” (Referring to the pop-up art event the interview was held at).
What do you want to see come out of your work and are there any words for your audience?
“I want to build a legacy of changing the way we talk about public art in the scope of who gets to be the face of it. Not necessarily that I should be the face of it, by any means, but that we acknowledge people of color and culture-makers. We talk a lot about Banksy, we talk about Shepard Fairey, we’re talking about white folks, much respect to them, but I think we also need to acknowledge Us. My legacy would be to leave something behind where youth of color are automatically brought into a world where they feel seen. I’m a huge believer in ‘kids can’t be it, if kids can’t see it’. This society works really hard to dehumanize our children and my work is intended to celebrate and bring that life back to us.”
The pop-up event was hosted by Veggie Mijas (@veggiemijas), a women of color collective that highlights the importance of having a plant-based lifestyle while also intersecting race, gender identity, class, and sexuality. The event was held at POT Studio (@pot_la), a community pottery studio, in Echo Park, owned and operated by women of color.
The Unapologetically Brown Series can be found on Instagram at @theunapologeticallybrownseries.
“My name is Jorge Steven Gomez, I am 19 years old, I come from Honduras and on September 19th, I was released on bond from the Adelanto ICE Processing Center,” said Jorge Gomez.
On Aug. 23, 2017, Gomez was arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff and taken to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles. During his six month sentence, he received a notice from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency stating that he was to be detained for immigration processing.
“I did not believe it,” he said.
Gomez fled Honduras when he was sixteen and was approved for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. This immigration status is granted to children who arrive unaccompanied and were neglected, abused or abandoned in their home country by one or both parents, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“It has been very complicated, being alone in this country, not having my parents [around],” said Gomez.
With turmoil in Honduras, a deportation for Gomez can result in a death sentence.
Gomez arrived at Adelanto ICE Processing Center during April, where he signed up to get help from the Legal Orientation Program, which led to him being represented by attorney Jaqueline Aranda.
“Many people told me that it was not easy [to get in contact with the legal orientation program], they said I had good luck,” said Gomez.
At the Adelanto ICE Processing Facility, detainees must act affirmatively by signing up on sheets posted in the dormitories to obtain Legal Orientation Program services. According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Legal Orientation Program staff relies on ICE to bring individuals listed on the sign-up sheet.
“The Legal Orientation Program has no input or control over which detainees they see or when they see a detainee at ICE’s Adelanto Processing Center,” said Gail Montenegro, the EOIR’s Regional Public Information Officer for the Midwest.
Gomez’s processing has developed differently due to him being processed in both the immigration court system and having the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status while in line for a visa. The hope, according to Aranda, was that a visa would become available before the removal proceedings were over.
“Broadly, there are two main agencies that deal with immigration, one is the immigration court system and the other is USCIS. USCIS processes applications for anything you are asking for affirmatively; in the court system, you’re acting defensively– so if you’re in the court system, the government is trying to deport you. SIJS was processed by USCIS and then [Jorge] was placed in removal proceedings in immigration court,” said Aranda.
At the 6 month mark in the Central District of California, detainees are automatically scheduled for a bond hearing. During these bond or “Rodriguez”, hearings, it is the government’s legal burden to prove why they should continue detaining the defendant.
“It’s really jarring when you have one agency in the federal government that says it’s not in this young person’s best interest to return to their home country, but then they’re in removal proceedings, and you have a separate agency saying this person should go back to that country,” said Aranda.
During the Rodriguez bond hearing, the application of the law is not in accordance to itself.
“It’s [the government’s] legal burden, but realistically, these judges are just looking for the person in proceedings to prove to them that they should be released,” said Aranda, “so what you do at bond hearings is try to paint a full picture of the person and convince the judge to let this person out of detention.”
“The fear of returning to my country gave me strength to keep fighting my case,” said Gomez.
After receiving aid from a GoFundMe fundraiser, Jorge was able to leave custody.
“The truth is that [the public] already helped. They helped me pay my bond. It all depends on me now,” said Gomez.
“A lot of times when people do have the opportunity to get out of custody [on bond], they just can’t pay it,” said Aranda, “because many [who] are detained come from really underserved, overcriminalized communities that do not have a lot of resources; financial support can make a really big difference.”
Community groups such as the Immigrant Youth Coalition, who supported Jorge emotionally, financially, and mentally, are excellent resource groups to get involved with if one cannot help financially.