An incredibly stark contrast waits on the southern side of the US/Mexico boarder. From wide freeways and empty grassy hillsides to an immediate urban onslaught. Zaydee and I dipped into Tijuana for the day to meet with some Honduran Migrants. As we rolled over the boarder I lost cell service on my phone and promptly missed the exit we were suppose to take that would lead us to the Sports Park where the Migrant Caravan had decided to stop after their approximately 1500 mile journey north from Honduras.
It started as just a group of a few hundred people wanting to make their way out of their home country of Honduras to the US. Migrants of all creed make this journey almost daily and they usually go in small groups or alone using a “Coyote" to guide them through Mexico and into the US over the open stretch of the boarder around Arizona or New Mexico. However over the last year migrants have been grouping together in “caravans” of a 2 or 300 to make the journey more safely and without the $7000 price tag. In September, Facebook post in central America amplified the awareness of these “caravans” which lead to a swell of people joining the group headed north. By the time they reached Mexico City they numbered almost 6,000. They gained international notoriety during the US midterm elections when Tump implied that the democrats wanted to let the migrant Caravan come into the country, saying there are "Many gang members and some very bad people."
We turned down Cinco De Mayo street and headed north. As I looked up the street I could see a large gathering of people and a police barricade at the entrance to the last block of the street just before it dead ends at the boarder wall. Beyond that were tents lining the sidewalks on either side of the street - very similar to LA’s skid row.
We parked the Jeep about a block away and headed in. Past the police, it felt a little like a street fair or a farmers market. People meandered down the road, some migrants, and many like Zaydee and I, documenting. Generally it was chaotic with everything going on all at once. There were heaps of blankets, clothes, and other debris in the street, vendors selling food or water, and there were kids… kids everywhere. Some chasing each other, ridding on skateboards, playing with simple toys, blowing bubbles, or kicking around deflated footballs.
We turned to enter the Sports Arena where most of the migrants had spent the night only to find that it had been cleared out. There were belongings everywhere. Abandoned tents, bags, clothes, shoes, toys just piled up or dropped as the families hastily left.
We talked with a few young men we found rummaging through the leftovers. They said that they were looking for toys that they could sell, which would give them a little money for food. When we asked where everyone was they told us that the day before they were instructed to pack up and that buses would be coming to take them to a new facility. An old jail about 30 minutes south. Living in the dirt was causing sickness and even lice to spread as the rains swept through so having a concrete floor and a solid roof sounds like an improvement. But all my life I’d been warned that Mexican prisons were not somewhere you wanted to end up.
We stepped back out onto the street and almost had our toes run over by kids riding skateboards or little plastic trikes made for toddlers half their age. There were children poking their heads out of tents and kids eating donuts that their parents had bought for them from one of the many vendors.
It was humbling taking it all in. Sitting just feet from the wall watching kids play in the street as if it was just a normal Saturday. Helicopters buzzed overhead tracing the border as the sunset. The light made the post rain clouds puff up in pink and the hillsides just over the wall lit up golden yellow. From the tents on the street you could see the US. Families that traveled more than a thousand miles with their kids for over a month laid at the feet of a nation not willing to let them in. How humbling it was to put myself in that place. I wondered if I had made that journey would I feel hopeless or hopeful having spent so much time dreaming only to now be right there literally feet from fulfillment.
The sun set and a bus took 40 more migrants to the new facility 10 miles south. Others opted to stay on the streets in their tents. The kids quieted down and Zaydee and I headed back for the US border. We waited in traffic at the checkpoint for 3 hours talking about what we had just seen. Five minutes before we got to the agents window we scrambled to find out passports and ID’s. Zaydee (first generation Mexican/American) had brought her Drivers License, Expired Passport, social security card, and her birth certificate; she assured me that they would let her through (although they might take her inside and question her for a few minutes.) When we reached the agent we handed him our info and he joked with us and asked about my trip to Barcelona, called me a VIP (because I had “Pre-check”) and didn’t even notice that her passport was expired. He sent us on our way and a few minutes later we were in the US cruising on an empty freeway quietly contemplating all we had experienced.