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Tijuana Grapples With Impending Arrival Of Thousands Of Central American Migrants


More than 1,500 miles west of McAllen, Texas, is the U.S. border crossing connecting Tijuana, Mexico, to San Diego. The migrants traveling by caravan across Mexico are reportedly headed there. Several hundred have already arrived, with more expected each day.

NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Tijuana and joins us now. Hi, Carrie.


SHAPIRO: What's it like right now? We've seen scenes of the caravan in southern Mexico. Is it that kind of an arrival in Tijuana right now?

KAHN: Well, they're coming in different stages. The bulk of the caravan is still in central Mexico, and that's a couple thousand people.

Here at the border, people are trickling in. There has been - I was talking to an official with the city who said, over the weekend and through the week, they've had about 800 arrivals, and they're coming in buses.

SHAPIRO: And with all the talk of the Trump administration hardening the border - barbed wire, armed forces - do you see any of that where you are?

KAHN: Yes. Here at the border crossing, where the vehicles pass through - there's two border crossings in the San Diego County region. And so what they have done is they put up concrete traffic barriers and concertina wire, closing out three to four lanes in the major border crossing at San Ysidro, Calif., and also further east in Otay Mesa.

So what that's done is slowed down legal vehicle traffic going into California, which isn't making a lot of commuters happy.

SHAPIRO: Right, because a lot of people cross that border every day for work. Is this making the migrants change their plans and try different routes?

KAHN: Well, it depends who you talk to. There are people in the caravan that are coming to ask for political asylum in the United States. That's why they've picked this border crossing in Tijuana. I'm actually sitting right in front of where people walk into the border port office to ask for asylum.

And it's really interesting, Ari. It's quite an organized situation that the migrants themselves have done. They have this handwritten list because there are already 2,000 people on that list who have been in Tijuana waiting to get into this official U.S. port office...


KAHN: ...And ask for asylum. The U.S. takes only about 50 a day. Right now, they're stepping up that pace. And today, they've taken in 90. So it's just interesting how they're orderly trying to do this. But people are in shelters all throughout the city and come to this point where I'm at right now and wait in line to line up and go into the office and ask for asylum.

SHAPIRO: What happens as hundreds or thousands more people show up?

KAHN: That's a great question, and it's causing anxiety amongst the migrants that have been here for months waiting to get their chance to go into this U.S. border office and ask asylum. They're concerned about that. They're concerned that the Trump administration will take even more measures to close down this border, make it even harder for them because the people that are in line here right now say they want to do it legally. They want to go in and ask.

And what's very interesting is there are people from all over the world, Ari, on that list - from Cuba, from Russia, from Honduras, from Nicaragua and Central America. And there's a lot of Mexicans, too. So it's a complicated situation, and they're trying to keep it as orderly as possible.

But this is the migrants themselves. The federal officials in Mexico are not helping them. They don't have a lot of help from the city officials. And they communicate very sporadically with U.S. officials.

SHAPIRO: How closely are they following what comes out of the White House, what's happening along the border, the rhetoric from President Trump - all of that?

KAHN: It's interesting. You talk to people, they know about it. They hear about it there through social media, through television, through radio. They hear about it, and it isn't discouraging a lot of people. You hear all sorts of different answers.

I was speaking to a woman today who had just arrived to Tijuana yesterday, and she just doesn't know what she wants to do. She says, I'm afraid. I don't want to ask for asylum because I don't want my kids to be separated from me, so she was well aware of that situation. She doesn't want to stay in Tijuana, and she doesn't want to cross illegally. She just looked like she was in shock and was unsure of what she would do.

But you hear from other people who are saying, you know, it's better for me to be in the U.S., dealing with that situation and maybe, possibly, in custody than to be back in my home country where it's very dangerous.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn on the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana. Thanks for joining us.

KAHN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on
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