Reporting and photography by Sam Slovick
The forecast is bleak. Cold and rainy as catrachos in damp clothes spread out into the city looking for work. Many of the Hondurans are wearing orange paper bracelets from the shelter at the Benito Juarez Sports Center in Tijuana, Mexico, where a reported 4,700 asylum seekers from the caravan currently live. The number of people seems closer looks closer to 7,000 to my eye.
The invasion of Tijuana is more like a deluge. A media diaspora where a flood of journalists from around the world migrate daily to the shelter, vying for position, pushing and shoving their way to a money shot.
Here, photographers, news crews with cameras, lights, audio and local talent, live-streamers, columnists and video-journalists, pour into the refugee camp. Some have made the journey from as far away as the Tijuana Marriott Hotel, 5.6 km’s away. Alternative news outlets like Unicorn Riot and Renegade Media have had eyes on the ground and in the air for weeks.
Once among the invaders, I started live streaming on the bus near Guadalajara with some asylum seekers and rode to Tijuana packed in an 8-bus caravan. It was a hopeful ride. The future unknowable, the past in the rear view mirror, where you can watch the back end of the police escort for the duration of the trip.
Hopes now dashed, the rain is pounding the camp into an ark, the rising tide is making many think about migrating to the new shelter some 40 minutes away where these is reportedly no electricity.
The situation here has deteriorated into a refugee camp where the U.S. Border Patrol recently launched tear gas canisters and shot less-lethal projectiles at barefoot children in diapers who sleep on the ground at the shelter in the Benito Juarez Center near by.
Tents and tarps spilled out of the shelter onto the sidewalk and into Cinco De Mayo street last week at the place where Mexican Marines cooked two meals a day in mobile kitchens. A cement blockade marks the dead end just down the block from the center’s main entrance where a big steal barricade parallels the freeway at the U.S. Mexico border.
Inside the shelter, cement sidewalks cut paths through large areas of dirt and grass where large and small tents and a patchwork of tarps are strung up everywhere. Thousands of people are living here, under the bleachers, on the soccer field, the basketball court and in every available spot. Men and women with small children say they don’t have enough food, water, that it’s unsanitary with public showers and water from pipes in a cement wall. They say everyone is sick and that the bathrooms are disgusting, and that they ran out of baby formula four days ago and need other basic things.
The people from the caravan in the shelter are caught up in a campaign of misinformation and it’s having a negative impact on their public profile. Possibly making things dangerous for them. It’s been recently reported that 300 to 600 convicted criminals are among the refugees at the shelter. Those numbers, spit out by Washington mouthpiece, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and run by main stream media including USA Today, LA Times and Breitbart, don’t represent the Department of Homeland Security data, which says that 95 percent of the asylum seekers traveling in the caravan do not have criminal histories. Some have been systematically filtered out along the way. The numbers are inaccurate. Publishing them without context is not journalism. It’s propaganda.
“I’m going. We’re going,” says Chino, a Honduran guy I met on the bus who is sitting on his wet clothes in a plastic bag in the street with a few friends. Women and children brush shoulders with armored military vehicles with manned machine gun turrets in front of the Benito Juarez Center, Tijuana.
Inside, the shelter is a swamp; many people are in the street with their stuff waiting for busses to the other shelter some 40 minutes away. The rumor is that there’s no electricity or running water. It’s cold. People are upset and so are the locals, dry but upset. At least that what I’d heard, but most of the people I’ve talked to in Tijuana say they don’t mind that the people from the caravan are here, but feel like they should follow protocol. They don’t like the way the caravan rolled in. But if you keep talking, they all say that they hope everybody is ok, and they don’t really care that they’re here.
Javier Hernandez, for example. He crossed the border to visit relatives nearby from Los Angeles. He grew up here, doesn’t have a camera and says he can’t imagine what it was like for people to make a decision to leave home and come here. He says if something good comes of this it’s because of these people. His analysis is precise. “Look at us Mexicans,” he says, “People are not pushing our government to do anything. We’re like the United States’ bitch. We gotta respect these people. These people set an example for us Mexicans. Ask for stuff. Demand shit. Demand a better life. People here in T.J., they work for American companies, they have their jobs and they put them in a little bus and they go to work. Is that what you want for your life? Demand something better for your life,” he says.
Before that happens these people are already here. It’s raining and cold and they need blankets, dry clothes, food, and medicine, water, baby formula and lots of other basics. There is already a good supply of caravan porn, click-bait on hand.