Some people call it an invasion. It’s like an invasion. I was desperate, I could not find a job. I could not pay the rent. This wall has led to the death of more than 11,000 people. There’s no way back. I didn’t suffer this journey just to give up easily. We were just standing at the border, everyone was standing there completely peacefully. We’ve just been tear gassed. They might as well turn back. They’re not coming into this country. We’re in Mexicali right on the border of California at what is one of the last stops for thousands from Central America who have been travelling for weeks in the hope of getting here and crossing over into the United States to start a new life. Known as the Migrant Caravan because of the large number of people travelling together, many have made this incredibly long and often dangerous journey almost entirely by foot. We’re here at this shelter to speak to some of these migrants and see why they’ve risked so much to be here. Everyone has a fear, in every city and in every neighbourhood. I have a son that was almost killed by the police four months ago. He was the victim of an attack by the police, they wanted to kill him. There is a lot of discrimination against the LGBTI community in our country. We have no support when it comes to education and health. The Honduran government doesn’t support us. We want refuge in the U.S. and we want to be part of society as the humans that we are. We do not want to harm anyone we just want to work. There are over a dozen shelters in Mexicali alone and this one right here has hosted over 2,300 migrants in just one week. The government, civilians or churches are the ones that provide food but the conditions are terrible and it’s really hard to imagine how that many people could even fit here. My name is Ada Argentina Portillo Castellano. I came here with my baby who is three-years-old and we’re from Honduras. It was my baby’s birthday on the 6th of November and too many things were coming together. [In Honduras] we had no possibility to develop or support our families. If one day you manage to eat, the next you are again wondering how to feed them. My little girl was at home waiting for me to bring her food, while I had to pay rent, I had to pay her expenses, my expenses, and I couldn’t find a way. The stress drove me crazy. I cried in front of my mum. She said: My daughter, look for another way. Come here. Let’s go and buy something, come. When we were in Santa Elena in Guatemala, I wanted to go back because it’s a very hard journey and I was alone, not knowing the way. I heard about the caravan that was coming as someone came asking who wants to join. So I decided to go with them and not be alone because it’s dangerous. 19-year-old Ada and her three-year-old daughter Grachel, like the vast majority on this caravan are from Honduras. A country which has seen a surge in violence and persecution of human rights activists since a U.S. backed coup overthrew the country’s left leaning President, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009. I am politically persecuted, I face denouncements and death threats for defending human rights in Honduras. To defend human rights in Honduras has become a crime. Two days after I left with this caravan there was an arrest warrant in my name in Honduras. The military police kicked down the door of the home that my mum rents they looked for me at my brother’s place. We’re still at the shelter here. Ada and some others have been told that at 6pm a truck was going to come get them and take them to Tijuana for the last stop, but a few hours have passed and there’s been no sign of the truck so we’re still waiting around to see what will happen. So it’s midnight, six hours later, but the truck’s finally arrived, and we’re about to hit the road and see what awaits in Tijuana. Ada’s final stop, Tijuana, is home to the world’s busiest land border crossing, San Ysidro. But the U.S. clampdown on the border as around 7,000 Central American migrants arrived here over just a few weeks caused what the city’s mayor has called a humanitarian crisis. Our great country must have border security. We don’t want people coming in that aren’t supposed to be here. We want people to come in through a legal process. But the legal crossing is only available to a few people each day, thanks to a metering policy introduced by the Trump administration which has left Ada and the rest here with two choices: sign up to wait indefinitely in the squalor of Tijuana’s camps, in a queue of thousands waiting to cross legally; or make the risky crossing illegally. How has it been getting here finally? The truth is that I feel a bit frustrated and nervous because some of my friends are going with a smuggler. The people I am closest to are the ones that will leave. Now they’re leaving I will be left alone. Over a third of those who have made this 4,000 km journey are reportedly under the age of 18 and an estimated 300 are younger than five. The situation here in Tiijuana is absolutely desperate, people are sleeping in temporary open-air shelters and only the lucky ones have tents. The nights are cold and food and water are hard to come by. So I’m stood here literally on the border. Right here is Baja California, Mexico and right there is the U.S. state of California. Now on the surface this might seem like an easier way to cross the border when in fact given that it’s a desert the weather conditions make it extremely difficult, there’s also nowhere to hide from the U.S. Border Patrol, and last but not least, the area’s controlled by the cartels. Central American migration has provided an extra source of revenue for Mexican drug cartels, who under pressure from the Mexican and U.S. war on drugs exploit the influx of migrants as an extra source of income. Much of the cartels’ strength comes from weapons which flood across the border from the United States. Mexico’s National Security Commissioner has put the figure at a staggering 2,000 guns manufactured in the U.S. that cross the border every single day. There’s a clear correlation between the quantity of guns coming from the U.S. into Central America, and the number of people fleeing from Central America into the U.S. But despite President Trump claiming the migrant caravans are full of criminals in fact the caravans pose a problem for the cartels and their smugglers, because the safety in numbers of these human convoys makes it harder for smugglers to kidnap and extort those who can’t or wont pay them to make the crossing. The amount is $13,000 to $15,000 per person. Not all of them have that amount of money to pay. It will be a struggle, they will suffer from the cold. It is two to three days of suffering but the people – women, children, the elderly – they manage to cross. So in your line or work and given your line or work, how do you feel about the Migrant Caravan? This is an invasion. These people are invading my country. In Mexico’s national anthem and in the constitution it says that if somebody invades there will be war. But I don’t know what’s wrong with Mexico’s citizens that they don’t rise up against them [the migrants]. But it’s not only the cartels who want the caravans to end. When this convoy arrived to Tijuana it was met with violent protests. The xenophobic backlash comes from a mixture of Tijuana’s wealthy, small-time merchants and the people who make daily trips through the border for work. Our business was affected, the sales, the tourism. The number of clients that we have here in the restaurants around 70 per cent of them are Americans and this affected us too much. It has affected me, myself, personally. I cross the border Monday to Friday, delays on the line. Just a big chaos that goes on in the border. What do you think the government should do? Well, they should do it like the United States do it – deportation. It’s affecting me because I need to cross every day. It’s killing me. CBP is currently conducting an exercise. Amidst this at times explosive atmosphere in Tijuana, along the border Trump has stationed nearly 6,000 troops to quote “harden” it, and US Customs and Border Patrol look more like they’re preparing for a war than handling an influx of women, children and men seeking sanctuary from the horrors of poverty and conflict in their homelands. Faced with this hostility and growing signals that the border was becoming almost impossible to cross legally, the migrants decided to hold a spontaneous demonstration to make their plight more visible to both the Mexican and U.S. government. So I’m here at the border right now that Tijuana shares with the U.S. state of California. The U.S. is where many of the migrants from Central America who have been travelling north for weeks are trying to reach to. A large number of them, right here behind me now, have marched here today to demand they be let in. This walk is for Donald Trump to touch his heart, because we are mothers of families, we have here fathers of families and we want to fight for our kids we want a good future for them. Above all we came thinking about our children’s lives, because one of our children died, he was 3 years and 8 months old and we do not want this to happen again. This is a peaceful struggle. [SIGN READS] United States why do you cross our borders?
But you don’t leave us to cross yours? So the migrants have just been let through and they’re running out trying to reach the border, there’s riot police all the way over there and at the end of the bridge waiting as well. While many reports suggested the attack was provoked by migrants rushing through the border, where we were standing the tear gas cannisters began flying over the fence out of the blue. We were just standing at the border, everyone was standing there completely peacefully we’ve just been tear gassed, we don’t even know where it’s come from, and everyone’s running back out again now. Were you at the march yesterday? Yesterday we were there, not at the bridge, we were sitting there and they started to throw gas. One man was hit in the knee and then it exploded and a lot of blood came out. We also started running and the Mexican people were also very mad and they started running towards us with machetes because they were saying that this was too much for them. The U.S. and Mexican authorities blamed the migrants for the violence, but human rights groups condemned the U.S. for attacking men, women and children seeking sanctuary. The United States is the only country in the Americas that has walls and it’s the only country in the world that separates children from their parents, and some of those children are in cages but for Trump that’s not good enough, last week he was tear gassing these children and the whole world is watching. And a society is judged on how we treat our children and it’s just been horrific. They want to come into our country and they’re criminals, and its not happening on my watch, it’s not gonna happen. At this very moment, large well organised caravans of migrants are marching towards our southern border. Some people call it an invasion, it’s like an invasion. U.S. citizens are faced with a president who portrays these migrants as a national security threat, but many are unaware of the actual invasions by the U.S. in these people’s homelands. Relentless U.S. economic and military interference in Latin America is the often ignored backdrop to this crisis. Since 1823 under the so-called Monroe Doctrine, the U.S. government claimed the right to intervene militarily across the region and since then, its done exactly that, over and over again, especially in Central America. Here, borders don’t seem to matter to the U.S. government as long as it’s the one that’s crossing them. The thousands of Hondurans on this caravan routinely talk about fleeing violence and poverty, both of which have soared since the U.S. backed a coup in their country, which saw unelected regimes take power who are friendly to Washington but not to Honduran workers, government critics or human rights activists. The more unstable Honduras becomes the more people are losing jobs, companies are leaving and everything is just falling down and the violence keeps going up. The number one issue that they have is that the violence and there is a lot of poverty in their country but also a lot of repression from the Honduran government. So we’re back at El Chaparral and behind me here there’s a booth that helps migrants process their numbers into the U.S. Ada’s decided to give it a shot, she’s still contemplating it as a backup plan and she’s still considering crossing over by water or by land. But for now, this morning, she’s come… she’s gotten her number and we’ll see what she decides. Even if they ask for it, no one is getting in until tomorrow. Until tomorrow, full stop. Ok then see you tomorrow. It wouldn’t be fair to tell you to wait here when I know I won’t call anyone else until tomorrow. Better tomorrow. Ok, understood. Fine, fine, another day. Yesterday you said one day, now you say another day. We are a group for tomorrow, one more day and I thank you because I was worried about my son. Tomorrow. Faced with a wait that could go on forever, some women are trying to find ways to pressure the U.S. to make crossing the border legally easier. So we’re at a small gathering, there’s a number of migrants that have decided to go on hunger strike. The plan was for them to march to El Chaparral which is the border checkpoint, but they were faced by riot police who’ve locked them off and the police have told me that they’ve basically decided to contain it and keep them here and not allow them to the checkpoint so things don’t get out of hand as it did a few days ago with the tear gas and the border patrol reaction. I want to communicate that we women are going on hunger strike. Why are we going on hunger strike? We ask the U.S. with all our hearts to please speed up political asylum, for it to be 50 [asylum seekers allowed to cross] at a time. We ask this from the bottom of our heart so that we can go there and work and show that we are not delinquents, and we are not how they treated us, but we are people who are trying to work and trying to progress. While these women fight for a more humane U.S. border policy, others, including Ada, decided not to continue suffering the uncertain wait for their number to make the crossing legally to eventually come up. Go, go! Don’t turn back, he can’t do anything to you. Are you kidding me right now? Be careful Marta! So we’ve just arrived here a bit ago at the border by the beach, and about 10 people so far have just gone through a hole and ran to the other side. Border Patrol has taken them and in some cases they’ve run straight to the Border Patrol. For me it is very difficult to be here, to see this wall knowing that I am just a few seconds away from making it. It scares me but at the same time let’s see what happens. We are already there, there is no way back. I didn’t suffer this journey just to give up easily. After we last saw Ada, she and Grachel made it through the border where they were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Days later they were released and allowed to continue their asylum application in U.S. territory. Around the same time, Jakelin Caal Maquin and her dad, Nery, made the same crossing further east. They were also detained, but less than 24 hours later Jakelin was dead. She was just seven-years-old and became the fourth person to die at the U.S.’ southern border in December alone. The only thing that’s going to stop that is great border security, with a wall or a slat fence or whatever you want to call it, but we need a great barrier. It’s walls like this that have caused the dreams of so many impoverished peoples to turn into nightmares. And with Trump and his supporters determined to build more of them, they threaten to make Ada and Grachel’s safe crossing more exceptional and little Jakelin’s fate even more common. This wall behind us covers one third of the U.S.-Mexican border and this wall has led to the death of more than 11,000 people. The reasons they’re fleeing a lot of it has to do with U.S. policies and we just want them to be able to be welcomed to get asylum. Since I was a kid I wanted to be in the U.S. We imagine a lot of things about how it is going to be. They say here I am skinny and I can go there and get fat. We can see many friends that went to the U.S. and they got really pretty and are able to help their families. We desire to have the same as they have. Because the U.S. has a lot of money and luxurious things and when you’re poor, you want what the other has and it’s very hard.