By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
The Scalabrinian Missionaries have been providing shelter and other services to deportees and migrants in Tijuana, Mexico for 31 years. Since the arrival of the caravan of migrants from Central America, the majority of the men they serve are now these migrants. Scalabrinian Father Pat Murphy spoke with Sr Bernadette about the situation these migrants are in, the services they receive at the Casa del Migrante and the prospects of achieving their goal--receiving asylum in the United States.
Why the migrants left home
Fr Murphy explained that 90% of the men the Casa del Migrante used to welcome were deportees from the US. Since the arrival of the Central American caravan, 70% are now Central American migrants awaiting the possibility of requesting asylum in the US. Many of them left their country because of the violence and lack of opportunity to improve their lives. Some of their children, as young as 13 and 14 years old, were facing coercion to join local gangs. Those who were business owners could no longer sustain the demand for “unofficial taxes” levied by organized crime. “You can’t work for your business for $50 a day and then give away $25 to organized crime, he said. “People are leaving because they want more opportunities in life.”
Casa del Migrante welcomes the migrants once they have received initial services at other shelters. He noted that the men are “obviously tired”, some have broken bones and they are malnourished.
Asylum prospects in the US
These migrants left their homes “with the illusion” they would receive asylum in the US in a matter of days, Fr Murphy says. There were already 2,000 migrants, most of them from Mexico, waiting their turn. Now there are 5000. Fr Murphy says that the border authorities are processing between 40 and 80 asylum requests a day at the Tijuana border with California. “They come very uninformed”, he continued, “they don’t know the reality is that 95% of them will never get asylum.” The reason is because they lack documentation that they are victims. Those with children who did not bring their birth certificates with them will be separated at the US border because they have no proof they are the parent(s).
Changing the dream
As the migrants wait and learn how long the asylum process is for the US, many “change their view quickly”, Fr Murphy said. “Once people realize it’s not so easy to get asylum and you’re going to have to wait for months, then they start changing their American dream for a Mexican dream.” Casa del Migrante is in charge of a UN program assisting migrants who decide to seek asylum in Mexico. The Casa also offers a “pretty sophisticated set of services”, according to Fr Murphy. Migrants are able to consult a lawyer, a psychologist, social workers, doctors, and they can find work through their employment office. They are given three days to work out a plan. If they succeed in finding employment, they can stay on a little longer. Low-paying factory jobs in the area have “100,000 vacancies right now”, Fr Murphy said. Although the pay is low, many are able to save up in order to afford an apartment.