Tijuana First: Protests against Migrant Caravan in Mexico spread like wildfire

Tensions are rising in Tijuana as members of the Central American migrant caravan continue their siege across Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border. U.S. troops continue to tighten security along the frontier.

On Sunday, anti-caravan protesters chanted: “Out Hondurans, we don’t want you here”, “Tijuana first” and “Long live Mexico”, while waving Mexican flags and signs reading “no to the invasion” and “no more migrants”.

The group, which at its height numbered about 300, gathered in front of a statue of the Aztec warrior Cuauhtémoc before then making their way to a sports complex serving as a temporary shelter to about 2,500 migrants from the caravan.

When they reached the shelter, they were met by a line of riot police. The standoff lasted several hours, with the crowd throwing water and beer cans at officers before eventually dissipating.

While many have welcomed the migrants – as they have the thousands of others who have come to the city over recent years – some Tijuana residents have expressed hostility to the caravan, amid intense media coverage and aggressive rhetoric from the US president, Donald Trump.

At the sports complex, the protests were met with a mix of fear and confusion.

“I’m not afraid of them, this is just racism,” said Alonzo Castillo, 37, a construction worker from Honduras.

Others were more fearful. The protest came just days after anti-immigrant protesters harassed, threatened, and hurled rocks at a group of about 100 migrants who were sleeping by the beach.

“You saw what happened the other night down by the beach, these people are aggressive,” said Ana Mendez, 27, another Honduran member of the group, as she watched her six-year-old play on the swing set. “What if they come here later at night, when there aren’t journalists around?”

Many Tijuana residents have shown their support for the migrants, donating food and clothes to shelters and providing entertainment, yet there is now a growing percentage of those displeased with their presence.

On WhatsApp and Facebook groups used to organise the demonstrations, anti-caravan protesters have reportedly described asylum seekers as a “cancer that signals the end of Mexico” and “equal to gonorrhoea”.

Many migrants were surprised by the anger they were seeing, particularly in contrast to the outpouring of support they had received along the route through southern Mexico.

“Until now we have been treated well. They treated us so well in Mexico City, but here nothing,” said Maria Gonzalez, 32, from Guatemala, who says she came north to find work. “I was thinking about staying in Tijuana, but now I don’t know, I didn’t come here for this,” she said, motioning down the road at the protesters.

It is unclear how long Tijuana can handle the invasion of migrants. Officials have estimated that until they receive the funds they have requested from the federal government, they only have about a week’s worth of resources.

“Until now we have been treated well. They treated us so well in Mexico City, but here nothing,” said Maria Gonzalez, 32, from Guatemala, who says she came north to find work. “I was thinking about staying in Tijuana, but now I don’t know, I didn’t come here for this,” she said, motioning down the road at the protesters.

It is unclear how long Tijuana can handle the influx of migrants. Officials have estimated that until they receive the funds they have requested from the federal government, they only have about a week’s worth of resources.

With US border inspectors processing about only 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana’s main port of entry to San Diego, it does not look like the migrants are going anywhere soon. The Tijuana mayor, Juan Manuel Gastélum, said he expected them to stay for at least six months.

Those who arrive must add their names to a list of about 3,000 already waiting to apply for asylum in the US. City officials have estimated that the number of migrants in the city could reach a staggering 10,000.

It is unclear how many more caravans will come – a group of 200 more migrants left El Salvador at the weekend.

Gastélum, who has been seen wearing a “Make Tijuana great again” cap in the style of Trump’s “Make America great again” campaign hats, has made it clear he is unhappy with the migrants arrival.

At a press conference last week, he called the migrants arrival an “avalanche” that no city would be prepared for and has referred to the group as “bums”.

Trump seized on Gastelum’s comments, tweeting: “Likewise, the U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!”

In a subsequent tweet he wrote: “Illegal Immigrants trying to come into the U.S.A., often proudly flying the flag of their nation as they ask for U.S. Asylum, will be detained or turned away.”

On Monday morning, the US set up more security barriers on the road and closed off traffic for several hours at the San Ysidro port of entry, one of the busiest border crossings in the world with about 110,000 people crossing into the US each day.

The US secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, said that the lanes had been close temporarily, claiming that Border Patrol officials had been notified that “a large [number] of caravan migrants were planning to rush the border in an attempt to gain illegal access to the US.”

She provided no further information or evidence for the claim. David Abud, a representative from Pueblos Sin Fronteras, the Soros-backed organisation coordinating the caravan, said: “Secretary Nielsen’s false comments about the refugee exodus are a deliberate attempt to mislead the public and demonise refugees fleeing government sponsored violence and displacement.”