TIJUANA (Border Report) — Earlier this week, 13 migrants from Mauritania, a small Muslim country in northwest Africa, were discovered being held against their will at a Tijuana hotel.
Advocates say hotels are being used by smugglers as stash houses where the migrants are kept until they can secure payment for transport into the U.S.
Now, Tijuana Police is saying they actually removed 79 migrants from three hotels including Hotel Jacuzzys where the asylum seekers from Mauritania were found.
Officials with the National Institute for Migration in Tijuana confirm 79 migrants were brought to their facility after being “rescued” by police officers and members of Mexico’s National Guard.
They say 30 of the migrants, not just 13, are from Mauritania with others from the Republic of Congo, Colombia and three other nations.
“It’s just like the time Iranians were spotted and reported to police,” said Alejandro Ruiz Uribe, a federal delegate representing Baja California in Mexico City. “People saw them and called police, which launched the operation.”
Human rights advocates like Soraya Vazquez with Al Otro Lado, say it’s no secret this is happening.
“Many hotels are being used by smuggling organizations to hold asylum seekers,” said Vazquez. “Police know about this.”
Vazquez stated the bigger problem is how these migrants end up in Tijuana even though they have no legal permission to be in Mexico.
She blames international human trafficking gangs that prey on people.
“This is a global problem, it shows there are no adequate or safe ways for people fleeing a conflict or persecution to come to Mexico and the United States, they have to depend on organized crime,” said Vazquez. “These groups of migrants are considered vulnerable because of the language barrier and other factors including religious persecution,”
Vazquez’s concerns are shared by the United Nations, which says “organized networks or individuals are behind these lucrative crimes and take advantage of people who are vulnerable, desperate or simply seeking a better life.”
Pastor Albert Rivera, who runs the AGAPE Shelter in Tijuana, says migrants have told him they ended up in Tijuana after bribing police officers and soldiers along the way.
“Most of them arrive in Brazil and eventually make it to Mexico by bribing their way through,” said Rivera. “Those at hotels are brought there by smugglers who scare the migrants into thinking they can’t go anywhere or they’ll be picked up by police who will jail them and shake them down for money.”
Pastor Rivera says these migrants almost have to depend on smugglers to survive and on relatives to pay the fees.