Hundreds of Tijuana residents on Sunday congregated around a monument in an affluent section of the city south of California to protest the thousands of Central American migrants who have arrived via caravan in hopes of a new life in the US.
Tensions have built as nearly 3,000 migrants from the caravan poured into Tijuana in recent days after more than a month on the road and with many more months ahead of them while they seek asylum.
The federal government estimated that the number of migrants could soon swell to 10,000.
US border inspectors are processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana’s main crossing to San Diego. Asylum seekers register their names in a tattered notebook managed by migrants themselves that had more than 3,000 names even before the caravan arrived.
On Sunday, displeased Tijuana residents waved Mexican flags, sang the Mexican national anthem and chanted “out, out,” in front of a statue of the Aztec ruler Cuauhtemoc, about 1.5km from the US border.
They accused the migrants of being messy, ungrateful and a danger to Tijuana.
They also complained about how the caravan forced its way into Mexico, calling it an “invasion,” and voiced worries that their taxes might be spent to care for the group.
“We don’t want them in Tijuana,” protesters shouted.
Juana Rodriguez, a housewife, said that the government needs to conduct background checks on the migrants to make sure that they do not have criminal records.
A woman who gave her name as Paloma lambasted the migrants, who she said came to Mexico in search of handouts.
“Let their government take care of them,” she told video reporters covering the protest.
A block away, fewer than a dozen Tijuana residents stood with signs of support for the migrants.
Keyla Zamarron, a 38-year-old teacher, said that the protesters did not represent her way of thinking as she held a sign saying “Childhood has no borders.”
Most of the migrants who have reached Tijuana via caravan over the past few days set out more than a month ago from Honduras, a country of 9 million people.
Dozens of migrants in the caravan who were interviewed by reporters have said that they left their country after death threats.
However, the journey has been hard, and many have turned around.
Honduran Ambassador to Mexico Alden Rivera on Saturday told reporters that 1,800 Hondurans had returned to their country since the caravan first set out on Oct. 13 and that he hoped more would make that decision.
“We want them to return to Honduras,” Rivera said.
The migrants’ expected long stay in Tijuana has raised concerns about the ability of the border city of more than 1.6 million people to handle the influx.
While many in Tijuana are sympathetic to the migrants’ plight and trying to assist, some locals have shouted insults, hurled rocks and even thrown punches at them. The cold reception contrasts sharply with the warmth that accompanied the migrants in southern Mexico, where residents of small towns greeted them with hot food, campsites and even live music.
Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum has called the migrants’ arrival an “avalanche” that the city is ill-prepared to handle, calculating that they could be in Tijuana for at least six months as they wait to file asylum claims.
Gastelum has appealed to the federal government for more assistance to cope with the influx.
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