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.