The first asylum-seekers from the migrant caravan have arrived in Tijuana after several weeks of traveling from Central America; they are part of a small group of LGBTQ migrants who split off from the larger caravan while in Mexico City. Their decision to travel separately stemmed in large part from discrimination they experienced en route to the United States, according to several asylum-seekers interviewed by the Washington Post and NPR.
About 80 migrants, the majority of whom identify as LGBT, splintered off from the larger group in Mexico City after weeks of what they say was discriminatory treatment by local residents and other travelers, Honduran migrant Cesar Mejía told reporters at a news conference on Sunday.
“Whenever we arrived at a stopping point the LGBT community was the last to be taken into account in every way. So our goal was to change that and say, ‘This time we are going to be first,’ “ Mejia said.
From Mexico City, the group of migrants traveled via bus, provided by immigrant rights and LGBT organizations from the U.S. and Mexico, to Tijuana. Their arrival at the Mexican border city has not exactly been welcomed by local residents, as NPR reported:
On Sunday the group arrived at an upscale neighborhood called Coronado in Playas de Tijuana just a few miles from the San Diego port of entry. They were dropped off in the tony enclave in small groups by Mexican immigration officials who had been alerted of the migrants’ arrival in nearby Mexicali. But upon their arrival they were met with anger from local residents who said they should have been warned by local authorities that LGBT people would be renting the four-bedroom house.
“This is a peaceful neighborhood and we don’t want any trouble,” Jose Roberto Martinez told Mejía. He said he lived in the neighborhood and that families in the area had survived terrible violence that plagued the region in the early 2000s — a result of the vicious drug wars in Tijuana.
“We aren’t safe here,” a woman who lives in the neighborhood said. “There could be someone within your group that could hurt us.”
Another woman demanded to know how the group had come up with the money to pay the rental fee for the expensive house. Mejía assured the community they were not backed by narcotraffickers.
In April, when a previous caravan of migrants and asylum seekers from Central America arrived at the border, LGBT members of the group were targeted, according to attorney Nicole Ramos from Al Otro Lado, where she directs the group’s Border Rights Project. “They experienced a lot of violence, including having the shelter they were staying in robbed and set on fire,” Ramos told the Post. “They are vulnerable.”
None of this has dissuaded immigrants like Cesar Mejía. “I just left a country where I was discriminated against,” he told the New Yorker. “I used to get attacked, and I’d go to the police to lodge complaints, but nothing ever happened.” He had brought a gay pride flag with him from Honduras. “When I took out the flag on the caravan, people asked me what country it was from, and I told them, ‘It’s the flag of the world.’”
Mejía and his fellow travelers will have to wait to even be interviewed by Customs and Border Patrol officials. According to César Palencia, Tijuana’s head of migrant services, 2,000 are already in line to be interviewed, meaning that recent arrivals will likely not be interviewed until the end of the year. Last week, Donald Trump, who has spent weeks stirring up racist fears of the migrant caravan, issued an executive order (already being challenged in court) prohibiting migrants who cross the border from claiming asylum unless they do so at an official port of entry, further burdening an already overwhelmed system that is struggling to process asylum seekers. In some instances, CBP officers are flouting international law—as the New Yorker pointed out, officials have in recent months been turning away asylum seekers who do show up at ports of entry, essentially an effort to, as the magazine put it, “shut down the southern border for everyone.”
After weeks of exhausting, physically punishing travel, Mejía is okay with waiting a little longer, he told the New Yorker. “For people like me who don’t have the money to pay a smuggler to come to the U.S., the caravan is what we have. This has been our option,” he said. “We don’t have to pay, but we have to suffer. And we’ve been through so much already, why not wait a little longer.”