STRANDED: Forced Migration, Illegal Barriers to Asylum and the Humanitarian Crisis in Tijuana

Executive Summary:

In March 2019, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) International Committee sent a fact-finding delegation to Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California, to investigate and illuminate the injustices and human rights violations confronting asylum-seekers and their advocates in Tijuana.

Seven NLG members joined two long-term, on-the-ground NLG volunteers. The team met with lawyers and activists working with migrants from Central America and elsewhere, as well as governmental and nongovernmental human rights organizations, Mexican police, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), local and international humanitarian aid organizations, and migrants themselves (see Appendix III for a full list of delegation meetings). This report articulates the findings of that delegation.

U.S. foreign policy and economic and military aid to repressive regimes in Central America, combined with the devastating effects of climate change, extremely high murder rates, kidnappings and disappearances, gang violence, loss of ancestral lands, environmental degradation, and poverty have rendered living conditions unbearable for millions. This has triggered the recent mass exodus of people from (primarily) the “Northern Triangle” countries (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala) trying to reach the U.S. border to seek asylum, referred to in the media as “migrant caravans.”

The response of the Trump administration to this forced displacement has been to vilify these people, portraying them as “criminals,” “rapists,” and “terrorists,” and characterizing the migrant caravans as “an invasion.” Following up on this racist rhetoric, the administration has implemented policies and protocols to minimize the possibility of these migrants obtaining asylum in the U.S. by instructing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to drastically limit the number of asylumseekers allowed each day to present their asylum claims, sending troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and pressuring the Mexican government to implement draconian tactics to discourage asylum-seekers from reaching the U.S. border. All this has fostered a virulent anti-migrant environment on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting in numerous human rights violations by both the U.S. and Mexican governments.

The March 2019 delegation to Tijuana was not the Guild’s first involvement with migrants at the border. When the first Central American caravan arrived in Tijuana in April 2018, NLG lawyers, trained Legal Observers, and legal workers traveled to Tijuana to provide legal support to migrants through partnerships with groups including the bi-national legal services organization Al Otro Lado (AOL). When the second, larger caravan arrived in November 2018, the NLG again partnered with AOL to provide legal support volunteers. NLG members were dismayed by the conditions on the ground in Tijuana, including the poor treatment of migrants seeking asylum by government officials and local residents. Among the observations were the illegal “list” for asylum-seekers waiting to present themselves at the border, a lack of access to shelter, food and humanitarian aid, numerous barriers to presenting oneself for asylum, lack of basic legal information about the asylum process, and illegal surveillance of migrants and migrant advocates. 

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