TIJUANA (Border Report) — Earlier this week, attorney Erika Pinheiro climbed into the back of a pickup truck, and with microphone in hand, started speaking to migrants at a campsite just south of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Pinheiro is a Tijuana-based immigration attorney and the Litigation and Policy Director for Al Otro Lado, an advocacy group that works with migrants and refugees.
She wanted to inform the migrants about the asylum program in the U.S. and the likelihood it will ramp up again soon.
“Those who are not eligible for processing right now don’t have any information as to when they will have access to U.S. asylum system,” said Pinheiro. “I felt it was important to go and give information about the reality of the border closure and the fact there isn’t an option for processing right now for the vast majority of people.”
Right now, the camp has hundreds of people — one estimate puts the number at 1,000. Most are from Central America, a few are from Haiti. All have the dream of crossing the border soon to seek asylum in the U.S.
“It’s important for them to make themselves visible, it’s important for them to organize with each other and it’s important for them to raise their voices, let the public on both sides of the border know that they need help and protection,” Pinheiro said.
According to Pinheiro, there’s no way of knowing when the asylum program might begin taking applications again. As of now, only those with pending cases have begun to trickle into the U.S. Most people at the camp don’t have cases on file.
“There are people here who have strong asylum cases, these are people who would absolutely qualify and others who wouldn’t,” she said. “This is not a pleasure trip for these people, they are desperate, makes me feel really worried about them especially the children who have suffered so much waiting here in Mexico.”
Pinheiro pointed out while it seems like there is a sudden storming of the southern border by migrants, she says it’s not what it seems because the program has been shut down for so long.
“Their numbers are really not as high as they look especially when you’re looking at a crowded encampment, we absolutely have the capacity to process these folks, and they would have been processed in past administrations,” she said. “This was done during Bush, Obama, every administration.”
Migrants at the Tijuana campsite have vowed to stay as long as they have to even though city and state officials have urged them to leave due to sanitary and health concerns.
The site provides no utilities, bathroom or shower facilities for the migrants. Food and water is brought in by churches and charity groups.