Category Archives: US-Mexican Border

My Border Handcuff Drama Update

Posted my thrilling detention by CBP in April that included handcuffs and ankle shackle. Hey, it had been a while since enjoying the thrill of cuffs.  But, these did not have the fuzzy, fluffy fabric that I prefer. Plain metal is the only CBP cuff offering.  The ankle shackle was a first and will have to get me a couple of those for home entertainment!

It was a total of 70 minutes in the San Ysidro SENTRI detention area, known by Mexicans as “La Hielera”.  The officers involved told me it was “The Office”.  Hah, that office looks a lot like gray prison.

“You are subject to a random search at the border at any time.  The handcuffs are for your protection.”, is the practiced script that was repeated to me three times during my detention.

Out of approx 12 people detained during my visit to La Hielera, I was the only one that left without handcuffs.

Other than some nervous time and frustration, decided to pursue Freedom of Information Act info on this incident to see what the drama was about.  My friends and I speculated that it could have been the history of my newish vehicle(purchased 7 months earlier).  Mistaken identity was dismissed due to my SENTRI pass and other unique documents.

My visit the following week to the SENTRI office at Otay Mesa got me nowhere.  The agents at that office feigned shock and dismay.  “We see the same thing on your record that they see at the booth when you cross.  Your record is clean”, was their report.

I filled out several online forms, including a   Made several phone inquiries. If I were a more self-indulgent #R!K, maybe an attorney and a whole lotta bluster would be in order.  But, you have to know which battles to choose and which ones are winnable.

After 3.5 months of nothing, did get a response about my border crossing record.  Above snapshot of the PDF doc they sent me is woefully incomplete as I cross the San Ysidro or Otay Mesa border crossings 20-30 times each year. It is called an I-94 report.  No information about the specific reason for the big detention in cuffs in April has come my way.

Have crossed the border 6 times in past 16 weeks without any delay or secondary inspection.

Onward and hope your travels go smoothly.



Weekend Traffic Crunch

                                by staff traffic editor, Quincy Quiebra 

My trip north to San Diego this week included picking up mail, a few shopping items and a lunch.  A grocery clerk told me he heard that Ensenada was the “La Jolla of Mexico”. HAH!

That grocery clerk had no idea that I was headed to the real La Jolla for lunch on Saturday.  Yuck, what a traffic jam are any of the beach areas of SoCal.  La Jolla Parkway was backed up for 2/3 of a mile.

Planned a lunch at We Olive in La Jolla.  It’s much smaller and less dramatic than George’s.  Yeppers, I’m a contrarian on many of the trendy dining spots.  Prefer smaller, mom/pop shops.  But, my We Olive review will have to wait as my lunch buddy failed me.

Was thrilled to be on my south and get away from the crunch of cars everywhere.

Southbound at Tijuana, that border crossing was about 10 minutes and easy.  But, the ongoing construction when approaching TJ Playas is another mess.  Sometimes the westbound lanes are narrowed to just one lane.

The beaches hold your clue on the traffic.  Everyone is escaping the heat, including the weekend crowds at Playa La Mision.  This photo shows the beach at approx 1/3 capacity.  My Saturday afternoon southbound drive saw this beach packed tighter than a thousand sardines in a bee hive.

The Ensenada toll booth southbound backup was 1.8 miles and more than 20 minutes. That white horizontal stipe thingy at photo center is the ‘Nada toll booth. From that backup to get through the slow traffic lights in El Sauzal to centro Ensenada, it took me 40 minutes for a whopping 7 miles.

TJ Chaparral border crossing to my house on the south of Ensenada Bay is usually 2 hours or less.  A 2 minute beer pickup and a five minute grocery stop made that a four hour haul.  No wonder I rarely leave my neighborhood during summer weekend.

San Diego Ceviche Showdown

Sunday, August 12 at 1 PM – 4 PM

1735 Hancock St, San Diego, CA 92101

Hosted by 57 Degrees Wine & Craft Beer San Diego

On this day, restaurants from #SANDIEGO and #MEXICO will gather to compete for the winning title of Best #Ceviche. Just like last year, we’ve invited our friends from Mexico to participate. Nomada Restaurante from Ensenada cleaned house and took home BOTH People’s Choice and Judges’ Choice awards. They are BACK and are the ones to beat this year! This is will be a tough competition and definitely a fun day!

More Event Info:
Two awards are given:
1. Judges Choice: A panel of local celebrity judges will conduct a blind-tasting and present the winner with the ‘Best Ceviche’ award. 2. People’s Choice: This award will be chosen by YOU! Every attendee will receive tasting tickets and a voting ballot upon check-in. After you taste the ceviches, you will submit your voting ballot. After the ballots are counted and tallied, the winner is announced.

#57CevicheEvent #SDCeviche #SDLocalEvents

Participating Restaurants:
Koipai Cocina – 2018 winner (formerly Restaurante Nómada – cocina Itinerante from Ensenada
Villa Saverios from Tijuana
Indigo Grill – Little Italy
El BajAmericano from Tijuana
Tidal Restaurant at Paradise Point Resort
Patron’s Corner – Downtown SD
Old Town Tequila Factory – Old Town
Old Town Mexican Cafe – Old Town

Note: This isn’t the complete list of participating restaurants, so check back for updates!

Judging Panel:
Frank Sabatini Jr.
Food critic for Downtown News, San Diego Uptown News and Gay San Diego.

W. Scott Koenig ‘A Gringo in Mexico’
San Diego based journalist and founder of, Scott Koenig has traveled extensively around Mexico since the 1990’s. He writes a regular column for and is the Food Expert for Tijuana and Valle de Guadalupe for (formerly FoodieHub), an international culinary site curated by over 275 global experts.

Candice Woo
Founding editor of Eater San Diego and a freelance food and craft beer writer.

Timothy E Pyles
Loudspeaker at 91X

participating reJudges Choice: Restaurante Nómada – cocina Itinerante
People’s Choice: Restaurante Nómada – cocina Itinerante (from Ensenada)

2016 Winners:
Judges Choice: Dobsons San Diego
People’s Choice: Puesto Puesto at The Headquarters

2015 Winners:
Judges Choice: The Blind Burro
People’s Choice: The Blind Burro

2014 Winners:
Judges Choice: Puesto Puesto at The Headquarters
People’s Choice: George’s at the Cove

Re: Tickets
Tickets can be purchased online at (go to the event flyer and click on the Paypal button located at the bottom of the flyer). Entrance includes tastes of all restaurant ceviches and a voting ballot. Tickets and voting ballot will be given out upon check-in and not mailed.

Ticket Prices:
Advanced: $29 plus tax
At Door: $39 plus tax
*Advanced ticket sales will end at 10 pm on Saturday, August 11th. After advanced ticket sales close, tickets can be purchased at the door. Note: Tickets are limited, so make sure to get them early.

*Must be 21 or over to attend.
*Tickets are non-refundable.

For questions or additional information, please email Carly at

Fines for Cutting In Line San Ysidro


The deputy director of Municipal Transit, Francisco Castillo Fraga warned that the Municipal Police will begin to fine motorists who get in line to cross to the United States.

He said there is a special device in the San Ysidro and Otay checkpoint where aligners and officers are installed, this with the objective of not allowing people to enter the middle of the line.

“The fine for entering if the officer is forbidding the passage has to be assured to the person and presented to a judge for not following an indication,” he said. 

The judge will decide if you will be arrested or how much the fine will be.

Border Wall Threatens TJ Homes

Cinthia Soto Esparza and her three-year-old daughter Brittany walk down the path in their enclosed property that has the U.S. border fence as their northernmost wall in the Nido de las Aquilas section of Tijuana. (John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)


From property barriers to wood shacks to cluttered backyard patios, dozens of structures south of the U.S. border fence face demolition as the Trump administration moves forward on its plans to build a taller, stronger wall separating the United States from Mexico.

The issue has arisen as work gets underway on a $147-million U.S. government project to replace about 14 miles of the existing scrap metal border fence between Tijuana and San Diego. The new structure is a bollard-style barrier rising from 18 to 30 feet, topped with an anti-climbing plate and described as “one of the Border Patrol’s top priority projects.”

At the far western end of the project, some 20 property owners in Playas de Tijuana have been ordered by the municipal government to remove structures built so close to the fence that they are deemed to be encroaching on U.S. territory. Farther east in Colonia Libertad, bulldozers already have begun removing trees rising in a residential neighborhood south of the border fence.

At Tijuana’s northeastern edge, residents of the impoverished Nido de las Aguilas neighborhood say they have heard a new wall is coming—and are worried they might lose their houses.

“You might say these boards are ugly, but for us they are everything,” said Beatríz Esparza, a 41-year-old widow who lives in a room built with scrap wood by her late husband next to the fence. “The president of the United States, maybe he has a lot of money, but we are poor.”

Authorities in Mexico do not have a definitive count, but expect the construction of the new U.S. barrier will displace dozens of structures south of the existing fence. These include concrete block walls, wooden shanties, outhouses, patios, animal enclosures—and at least one carport, a tennis court and a shrine with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that is attached to the existing wall. Also facing removal are trees and gardens that rise south of the existing barrier.

“The fact that they are on the Mexican side of the wall does not mean that they’re in Mexico,” said Roberto Espinosa. He heads the Tijuana office of the Comisión International de Límites y Aguas, the Mexican counterpart of the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission, a bi-national agency that oversees compliance with water and boundary treaties.

“People think that the fence is the boundary line and that is not so,” Espinosa said.

The existing border fence typically stands some two or three feet inside U.S. territory. The new fencing project will follow the same line as the old one, but it will be larger and heavier, thus requiring removal of any trees and structures in its way, authorities said.

Acting at the request of the Mexican branch of the boundary commission, the city sent out initial notices in April to 20 property owners in the Playas de Tijuana neighborhood. They are all inside a quiet and gated enclave of several dozen houses known as Terrazas de Mendoza that offers sweeping views of Border Field State Park and the Pacific Ocean.

The San Diego Union-Tribune was able to see a notice that informed one owner that her property’s mesh fence, arch-shaped wall and tennis court were “affecting the border line.”

Legally, there should be no construction within 20 meters, about 65 feet of the border, said Leopoldo Guerrero, the second-highest-ranking official at Tijuana City Hall. But authorities say that in this case, they only are asking property owners to clear out structures within one meter of the border fence, to ensure that they are not encroaching on U.S. territory and subject to demolition.

This month, the city has been sending out a second round of notices to these residents. “Right now, it’s a recommendation,” Guerrero said. “We’re telling them, ‘I’m giving you the opportunity to do this and let them work, so that you can’t come back later and complain,” if the structures end up being torn down by the U.S. contractor charged with building the new barrier.

While the issue is flaring up with the construction of the new wall, its origins go back more than a century. Both the U.S. and Mexican sides of the commission in 1906 recommended that their governments establish 60-foot strips along both sides of the international boundary forbidding private residences or similar constructions.

A year later, President Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation ordering a 60-foot-wide strip to serve “as a protection against the smuggling of goods between the United States” and Mexico. The parcels “may be used for public highways but for no other purpose whatsoever,” it said.

Mexico took similar action in 1943, with a decree from Mexico’s finance ministry, saying that structures by the boundary line “lend themselves to hiding subjects who are violating the laws of the country due to the easy reach to the borders of other countries.”

In Terrazas de Mendoza last week, one resident who spoke on condition that he not be named said he is being asked to remove two walls that he built to protect his property from smugglers, thieves, and other criminals. “Nobody is watching over this stretch,” said the resident, saying that an open strip will invite crime.

He was not adverse to complying, but disputed the city’s notification process and was not going to respond. “The law says that notifications must be in person, but they left them in mailboxes, with neighbors, with workers who were on their way out,” the resident said.

In Colonia Libertad, longtime resident José Arias faces destruction of a concrete block shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe that memorializes his late wife and son and is attached to the existing border fence. Nearby, bulldozers already have begun pulling down trees to make way for the new construction, and the shrine is expected to come down with the old border fence, as it cannot be separated.

Guerrero, the city official, said authorities are working gradually on notifications as the wall construction progresses — and residents like Juana Nava in Nido de las Aguilas say they have yet to receive word.

On the small plot at the end of Calle Cilantro where she lives with her eight children and three grandchildren, Nava has built a washroom and outhouse right against the wall, and in another spot she has created a shaded patio area with a hammock. Outside her fence of scrap wood, she has planted a garden of nopal cactus.

“I have papers, I have water, I have electricity, look at the post, I’m not lying to you,” said Nava, who earns money cleaning houses. If she has to move, “let them give me what I’ve invested,” she said.

The neighborhood, settled by squatters, for years has been known as a corridor for smugglers, and those who live by the fence say they regularly see people climbing into the United States. But apart from the sounds of U.S. Border Patrol vehicles, residents like Nava say this is a quiet spot.

Standing outside her house near cages of chirping parakeets, Esparza, 41, offered a visitor a glass of water and a seat in the shade as she spoke of her worries.

Since her husband died three years ago, she has lived here with her adolescent son, 21-year-old daughter, and three-year-old granddaughter and the stray dog named Africa they rescued from a nearby dump. Esparza has learned of television reports about the new wall, and fears what could happen.

“They’re just old boards, but it’s our home,” Esparza said of her one-room residence. “I don’t want them to come and destroy what we’ve built with so much sacrifice.”

Immigration Debate Useful Idiots

The illegal immigration debate has come to a head once again. Congress remains at an impasse over a temporary spending bill that Senate Democrats refuse to support unless it includes a provision that would allow several hundred thousand illegal aliens to remain in the United States without fear of deportation. It’s a tiresome ploy by the Democrats, abetted by their allies in the media, using deceptive language to paint a false picture that blurs the distinction between legal and illegal, citizen and foreigner, justice and injustice.

Enough obfuscation. Here are some of the most pernicious myths of illegal immigration, debunked.

The System is “Broken”
Broken for whom exactly? Not for Mexico and Latin America. Together they garner $50 billion in annual remittances. The majority of such transfers are likely sent from illegal aliens.

Some of that largess is also subsidized by the entitlements American taxpayers pay that free up this disposable cash for sending abroad. In the eyes of Mexico and Latin America, the only thing that would make our system appear “broken” would be enforcing existing U.S. immigration law.

Or perhaps “broken” would be defined as novel ways of paying for Trump’s wall—by either taxing remittances or so discouraging illegal immigration that a reduction of dollar outflows could be counted (at least rhetorically) as down payments on border construction.

The immigration system is also clearly not broken for the Democratic Party. It has turned California blue. It soon will do the same to Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, and someday may flip Arizona and Texas.

If the statist, redistributionist, and identity politics principles of the Democrats no longer appeal to 51 percent of the electorate, then why would they give up on the annual investment in nearly hundreds of thousands of new arrivals that by some means, and in the not too distant future, would translate into loyal, politically predictable voters for whom this approach to politics is second nature?

Employers believe the system is anything but broken. Any good news for the country about skyrocketing minority employment numbers is likely to be bad news for them if it means declining numbers of cheaper illegal aliens to hire. Open borders have ensured the hiring of industrious workers at cheap wages while passing on the accruing health, educational, legal, and criminal justice costs to the taxpayer. The present system is “working” well enough for this crowd; its possible replacement instead would be defined as “broken.”

Ethnic tribunes support illegal immigration. If the border were closed and the melting pot allowed to work, the façade of identity politics would vanish in a generation.

Recently added accents would be dropped. Hyphenated names would disappear. Trilled r’s would become rare. La Raza/Chicano/Latino Studies programs would become about as popular as Basque or Portuguese. If immigrants from Mexico came in measured numbers, legally, with high-school diplomas, and along with diverse immigrants from all over the world, then rapid assimilation and integration would soon render them politically individuals, not tribes. Someone like California Senate Leader Kevin de León (born Kevin Alexander Leon) would never have needed a preposition and an accent mark.

Broken? More likely, most welcomed.

Illegal aliens, of course, believe the present system is working well, at least compared to the possible alternatives. Legal applicants, still faithfully believing in a now-nonexistent system, wait in line. Those south of the border simply cross.

The moment Mexican citizens—unlike Poles, Australians, or Koreans—reach American soil they or their children, in theory, will become categorized as a minority eligible for government affirmative action and preferred hiring. It is as if Los Angeles or Reno had something to do with the centuries-long racial oppression by an ethnically Spanish-legacy elite 500 miles south of the border.

American elites welcome illegal immigration, both for the cheap labor and for the opportunity to virtue signal their magnanimity, perhaps as much as they seem rarely to live adjacent to the barrio or keep their children in schools that are impacted by immigrants, and or shop where English is rarely spoken.

In sum, the system is working for everyone. It is broken only for the naïfs who worry over the long-term consequences of rendering the law null and void, and of ceding our culture to arriving populations for the most part not yet accustomed to the habits that sustain personal and political freedom.

But the “Dreamers”!
There are 700,000-800,000 DACA recipients, though no one knows the exact numbers. Nor is there a clear definition of who constitutes the population of the “Dreamers,” other than arriving into the United States illegally as a minor. It is an ossified concept, one frozen in amber, given that the average age of a so-called “Dreamer” around 25. When a Dreamer reaches 40, is he still defined as a Dreamer? Or have his “dreams” already come true?

Naturally, minors should not be penalized for the transgressions of their parents. But a large percentage of the DACA cohort is now six or more years into adulthood. Yet upon turning 18 apparently, most have made little effort to obtain either green cards or citizenship.

College graduation and military service are often referenced as DACA talking points. In truth, some studies suggest that just one in 20 dreamers graduated from college. One in a 1,000 has served in the military. So far, about eight times more Dreamers have not graduated from high school than have graduated from college.

Dreamers represent less than 10 percent of all illegal aliens residing in the United States. They are also a fraction of the ignored millions of foreign students from all over the world who seek, often in vain, to study in the United States or are skilled applicants for green cards. Such depressing statistics about DACA might not matter—if supporters of open borders did not always cite incomplete or misleading data.

Weaponizing the Language
Most of the vocabulary surrounding illegal immigration is both politicized and weaponized—as we have seen with “Dreamers.”

Illegal immigration is conflated with legal immigration in order to smear critics with charges of biases against the “other” rather than of simply expressing concerns over legality and sovereignty. By progressive prepping of the linguistic battlefield, some conservatives feel a continued need to “prove” they are not racists by granting more and more exemptions from immigration laws.

“Sanctuary cities” are not “sanctuaries” in the manner we think of a cathedral in a Victor Hugo novel. They are nullification centers where foreign nationals who have broken laws are not subject to full enforcement of immigration laws, due entirely to political considerations.

“Sanctuary city” is not an abstract philosophical term. None of the current sanctuary cities would agree in principle with other jurisdictions in similar fashion nullifying federal laws that advanced left-wing policy objectives. The sobriquet is a euphemism for 1850s-style proto-Confederate, states-rights chauvinism, dressed up similarly in pseudo-moralistic terms.

“Undocumented immigrant” suggests that the problem is a matter of forgetting to bring legal documents, rather than a decision to ignore the need for legal authorization. To become “un-documented” one might first have had to become “documented.” Yet almost no illegal aliens ever were registered as immigrant applicants.

“Undocumented” replaced the adjective “illegal,” just as “immigrant” (and increasingly just “migrant”) superseded the noun “alien.” That is, when the Democratic Party realized that swelling Latino populations began to vote en masse and could salvage what its failing message could not.

At that point, around 2010 or so, the old Democratic and progressive admonitions about illegal immigration cutting the wages of the poor, impeding unionization, and siphoning away social welfare entitlements from the citizen poor were finally and completely jettisoned (along with the language once used by Jimmy Carter and the Clintons). Euphemisms replaced descriptive vocabulary in efforts to construct a new reality.

“Diversity” is often associated with illegal immigration. In fact, the majority of illegal immigrants come from Latin American and Mexico. They are hardly diverse. Real diversity would be recalibrating immigration to be legal, meritocratic, and aimed at roughly equal representation from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe—and thus politically unpredictable.

Political Epithets: Racism and Xenophobia
The cargo of illiberal accusations is likewise constructed, given the United States is the most pro-Latino country in the world, Mexico included. Half of all immigrants, both legal and illegal, come either from Mexico or Latin America—a sort of inverse racism that assumes illegal Spanish-speaking immigrants are intrinsically more deserving of U.S. residence than legal immigration applicants from Uganda, South Korea, or Ukraine.

The constitution of Mexico carefully delineates all sorts of offices that are not open to naturalized citizens. It lists a variety of immigration offenses that result in automatic deportation or imprisonment—the constant theme being Mexico wants skilled immigrants who can help Mexico (consistent with its constitutional prohibitions against any immigration that might adversely affect “the equilibrium of the national demographics”).

What is also not diverse is Mexico and Latin America. The vast majorities of the population there share roughly similar ethnic heritages and a common language and religion; small numbers of minorities such as blacks are treated as second-class citizens.

Strange, too, are the outward theatrics and themes of illegal alien activism—the frequent waving of Mexican flags, the often loud criticism of a generous host country, the usual demands made upon a foreign nation—mysteriously coupled with the overwhelming desire of millions to enter or remain in the supposedly demonic United States. Waving a flag of a country that one does not wish to return to while shunning the flag of a country in which one very much wishes to reside is incoherent.

What is humane and progressive is defining people by the content of their character rather than by their superficial appearance or ethnic affinities—a notion contrary to the engine of identity politics. Finally, many ethnic activists are accepting that reality. Why otherwise would the National Council of La Raza belatedly at last drop the nomenclature of “The Race” shortly after the 2016 election to become UnidosUS (“us united”)?

Is America Great or Not?
The entire image of the United States has been smeared in most discussions of illegal immigration.

The thrust of ethnic studies departments, the narratives of open borders activists, the pageantry and symbolism of mass immigration demonstrations, and the chauvinism embedded into popular culture is mostly couched in implicit anti-Americanism. At least we are led to believe that a culpable America has done wrong in the present and the past, and has to restore its morality by allowing open borders and illegal immigration. But who are the arbiters of American ethics? Vicente Fox? MS-13 gang-bangers? Those whose first act in entering America was to break its laws?

Millions are fleeing paradigms that they apparently judged as wanting, either politically, economically, or socially, or all that and more. Why, then, would foreign nationals have ceased romanticizing their new generous hosts upon their arrival and begun idealizing, instead, their rejected birthplace? And if these are their true feelings on the matter, why did they leave?

Second, there rarely is expressed any formal analysis of why one wishes to enter the United States and leave one’s home country.

What, then, exactly makes a naturally rich Mexico rather poor and naturally poor New Mexico rather rich? Why is Venezuela a mess and Colorado is not? Has anyone prohibited Mexico from reformatting its constitution to ensure an independent judiciary, the rule of law, a free-market economy, the protection and free sale of private property, a bill of rights, unfettered free speech, a meritocratic civil service, transparency in law enforcement, and an ethnically blind culture?

The question is not just mindless American boosterism. In the past, immigrants accepted that they had left Ireland, Italy, or Poland because habits, customs, and government in their home countries were deemed wanting and unworkable, and therefore it was necessary to embrace their antitheses in the United States. It would have made no sense to flee from Italy and expect to live life in America on the premises that an Italian lived in Italy. Immigration, again brutally or not, is a complex two-step hard bargain that succeeds only when one accepts his chosen country—and de facto rejects the collective protocols of his birthplace.

Why do these mythologies abound? Largely because Americans, the hosts, either cannot anymore even define their own civilization to would-be immigrants, or are so intimidated that they are terrified to even try.

Elephant in Room on Immigration

With Cartels In Control, There Are No Easy Answers To The Border Crisis

Much of Mexico and Central America is ruled by cartels, and until we come to terms with the role they play in migrant smuggling, the crisis will worsen.

In the debate over President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration, pundits and politicians from across the political spectrum are offering simplistic solutions to the problems along our southern border.

On the Left, outrage over family separation has morphed into outrage over family detention with Trump’s announcement last week that families would be kept together but still prosecuted for illegal entry. Although they won’t come right out and say it, most liberals would like to return to a policy of catch and release, in which families caught crossing illegally are assigned a court date and released into the country.

On the Right, many seem to think it’s possible to solve illegal immigration simply by building a wall, or carrying out mass extrajudicial deportations, or separating parents and children as a deterrent.

Libertarians, too, are grasping for simple solutions. Over at Reason, J.D. Tuccille suggests that “better smugglers” are the best way to fight Trump’s draconian border policy. “Immigrants and their supporters should give some thought, and effort, to improved smuggling channels that treat migrants better than the existing criminal networks, and offer them a better chance of success,” writes Tuccille. He doesn’t mention the possibility that these new smugglers might find themselves at odds with the old smugglers, whose profits are at stake, or that jumping into Mexico’s migrant smuggling trade as a freelancer carries the risk of, say, being beheaded by one of the cartels.

Tuccille’s facile take is emblematic of the way the media has more or less ignored the role that “criminal networks” are playing in all of this—a role that makes easy solutions impossible. Throughout the border crisis, the media’s attention has been focused on the plight of Central American families and the chaos created by Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. Sure, the president likes to exaggerate how many MS-13 gang members are crossing the border, but neither Trump nor his detractors are thinking seriously about the escalating violence and accelerating social collapse now underway in Mexico and Central America, and how crime syndicates are playing into illegal immigration along the southern border.

Violence In Mexico Is Out Of Control—And Getting Worse

National elections in Mexico are set for July 1, and so far 121 political candidates, most of them running for local office, have been assassinated, along with dozens of their family members. Hundreds more have been attacked. On Thursday, a mayoral candidate in Ocampo, in the western state of Michoacan, was killed outside his residence—the third politician to be killed in Michoacan in just over a week. Federal police responded by arresting the entire town’s 27-officer police force on suspicion of involvement with the murder, another reminder that across Mexico drug cartels have infiltrated local and state police forces, political machines, and major industries. Candidates who speak out against corruption and vow to stand up to the cartels are especially in danger.

The violence is bad enough that the U.S. State Department has issued “do not travel” advisories for five Mexican states—Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas, whose northern boundary runs along the U.S. border from Brownsville to Laredo, Texas. These are the same travel advisories in place for countries like Libya, Syria, and North Korea. For much of the rest of Mexico, including nearly the entire U.S.-Mexico border, the State Department advises Americans to “reconsider travel.”

Tamaulipas is so dangerous right now that the interim governor of Nuevo Laredo, which sits directly across the Rio Grande from Laredo, has warned his citizens not to try to travel to the United States through Tamaulipas, and especially not through the town of Reynosa, across the river from McAllen, Texas. The official warning came a day after gunmen believed to be associated with the Gulf Cartel ambushed marines with the Mexican Navy three times in Nuevo Laredo, killing one and injuring 12 others. According to Mexican officials, the gunmen wore marine uniforms and drove vehicles with government markings. The ambushes only stopped when the marines called in a helicopter gunship for support.

Part of what’s driving the violence in northern Mexico is the breakdown of the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels. The most recent wave of violence began last April when Mexican authorities in Reynosa killed Juan Manuel Loisa Salinas, the leader of the Gulf Cartel. His death created a power vacuum, and various factions are now competing for a piece of the cross-border drug trade and other criminal enterprises.

Signs of the grisly cartel violence that was associated with Juárez back in 2010—severed heads, bodies hanging from highway overpasses—are now cropping up in border towns further east along the Rio Grande. In March, cartel gunmen dumped bags filled with dismembered body parts outside a gas station in Reynosa, where more than 500 people have been killed in the past 12 months.

Cartel violence is getting worse all over Mexico, not just along the border. Last year brought a record 28,710 homicidesnationwide, and this year is on track to surpass 30,000. May was the deadliest month ever recorded in Mexico since the government began releasing homicide data in 1998—2,890 people were killed, an average of four people per hour. By comparison, only Syria is more violent.

The Migrant Crisis Benefits The Cartels

Into this maelstrom have come a relentless stream of refugees and migrants from Central America, driven by worsening gang violence and poverty in the “Northern Triangle” of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Most of those crossing Mexico’s southern border are headed for safety and better prospects in the United States, which puts them at the mercy of Mexican cartels that have developed diverse income streams, from child organ trafficking to migrant smuggling.

In an interview with the Daily Beast last year, Eric Olson, deputy director for Latin America at the Wilson Center, explained that “Over the last several years more sophisticated criminal organizations have begun to take control of the migratory schemes,” citing growing competition among cartels “for control of routes and people coming through.”

Migrant smuggling has become a lucrative business for the cartels, which charge migrants anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 a head for passage over the Rio Grande. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told a Senate Committee last month that human smuggling brings Mexican cartels more than $500 million a year, but that figure is almost certainly too low. The fact is, the cartels began to professionalize human smuggling around 2010, when large numbers of Central American migrants began coming through what had long been drug smuggling routes. In response, the cartels created a system of fees for migrants and dedicated personnel to police the routes.

The effect of tougher immigration enforcement like Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy is that the coyotes, as the smugglers are called, increase their fees while often misleading migrants about what they can expect once they cross into the United States, promising them visas or some form of amnesty. The coyotes are notorious for abandoning migrants on either side of the Rio Grande once they get paid, or, for those who run out of money, raping or kidnapping helpless customers, some of whom are sold into human trafficking near the border.

Because migrants must often pay for each leg of their journey up from Central America, including bribes for various law enforcement officials along the way, by the time they reach the U.S.-Mexico border they’re often out of money and completely at smugglers’ mercy. Migrants who can’t pay are sometimes forced to carry large packs of drugs over as payment for their fare.

Ironically, the tougher immigration enforcement is on the U.S. side, the greater the potential profits from migrant smuggling—not just because coyotes charge more but also because migrants and recently deported illegal immigrants have no other way of getting into the United States, and are willing to take greater risks. The mainstream media doesn’t seem to grasp this connection, which is why the Washington Post can publish a lengthy feature on a couple trying to illegally cross the border and barely mention the role of smugglers or the connection they have to larger criminal syndicates.

All of this is to say that we can’t have a serious conversation about the border crisis without being clear-eyed about the role the cartels play in societies that are essentially collapsing. Pretending that illegal immigration isn’t really a problem, as liberals and libertarians tend to do, ignores the close connection between human smuggling, drug trafficking, and cartel violence on both sides of the border. Pretending that it’s an easily solvable problem, as conservatives tend to do, is like claiming there’s an easy way to defeat Islamic radicalism—as if the cartels will agree to stop smuggling and trafficking just because we put up some more border fencing or ramp up deportations.

But until we get real about the almost unimaginable levels of violence and corruption in Mexico and Central America, our immigration crisis will fester, and eventually the chaos south of the border will spill over onto our side—no matter how high Trump builds his wall.

Tijuana Playas Lane Closures

                                  by traffic editor Quincy Quiebra  
The closing will be from Monday, July 9 and a counterflow will be enabled by the resumption of the works of the densification of the soil of this road

TIJJUANA.- The Department of Urban Development and Ecology (SDUE) informed that for the rehabilitation works of the roads of Playas de Tijuana there will be a partial closure of the road.The agency explained that starting at 10:00 am on Monday, July 9, work will resume and a backflow will be enabled in this road.

The Directorate of Municipal Urban Infrastructure and Works (Doium), indicated that this closure is to continue the work of densification of the soil of this road, which were already completed in the lanes of the south body (in the direction of Playas de Tijuana to Zona Center) in days gone by.

He explained that it is a section of 365 meters where these works will be carried out to guarantee the stability of the ground, and to prevent risks for motorists when traveling through this road.

It will start with the central and right lane closure of the north body, that is, in the direction of the Central Zone towards Playas de Tijuana, for which a backflow will be enabled in that direction to affect as much as possible the vehicular flow.

This backflow will be enabled from the access section to the Lázaro Cárdenas neighborhood (Puente La Cúspide) to the El Mirador bridge.

It is worth mentioning that these works will be carried out in all the lanes of the aforementioned address, so that the backflow will be adapted according to the development of these works, which will last around six weeks.

Through a statement, the XXII City Council thanks the citizens for their understanding during the execution of these works.




Tijuana Border Wall Works

A sideways view of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The left half is Mexico; the right half is the United States. | Guillermo Arias for Politico


Where the Wall Worked

Tijuanans shrug at Donald Trump’s proposed wall—because they already have two. And, for the most part, they’ve done the city some good.

TIJUANA, Mexico—In 1972, a 15-year-old named Raul stepped off a bus at a depot near Coahuila Street, in the red-light district of Tijuana. Coming from an isolated village in the farming state of Michoacán, Raul had never heard so much noise, nor seen so many people in one place. He spent the next day afraid to leave the bus depot, until a janitor shooed him away.

Coahuila, teeming with people, was a legendary neighborhood a few blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border. Americans came here to spend money in the all-night clubs on booze and sex. By the time Raul arrived, it had also grown into a kind of Ellis Island for would-be migrants—a landing spot for poor folks from across Mexico who arrived on buses like his by the hundreds every day, headed, they hoped, to new and better lives in the United States. They rented cheap rooms in the hooker hotels, as did the smugglers they paid to herd them through a border of barbed wire or porous chain-link fence. Raul had hoped to cross the border and pick crops in California’s Central Valley. But his uncles, whom he hadn’t seen for years, had found work as immigrant smugglers. Instead of crossing into California, Raul stayed in Tijuana, and grew into the family business.

The immigrant-smuggling business was quintessential Tijuana in the 1970s and ’80s: It was a seat-of-the-pants endeavor that young men, rural transplants, entered easily by learning from others, employing mostly their wits and bravado. In Mexico, they were known as polleros (chicken herders), and they were the kings of Tijuana, rolling in dollars and filling the cantinas after every trip. “So, I stayed, earning $100 or $200 a day as a pollero’s helper,” Raul told me when I met him in Tijuana a few months ago. “I went from helper to pollero, driving people across.”

All that changed beginning in the early 1990s, when U.S. authorities, responding to the chaos and open flouting of the law at the border, built a wall—followed by another over the next decade. The first, made of Vietnam War-era steel landing pads, begins in the waves of the Pacific Ocean and stretches east for 14 miles along hilly terrain that sidles against a string of working-class neighborhoods, the Tijuana airport and the Otay Mesa factory zone, stopping only when it meets the mountain known as Nido de las Águilas (Eagles’ Nest), on Tijuana’s eastern edge. The second, parallel barrier, made of fencing and prison-like stanchions, spans several miles east and west on either side of the legal crossing point at San Ysidro. Along with these structures came additional surveillance such as buried sensors and poles with cameras peering in every direction.

Today, nothing so embodies the tense relations between the United States and Mexico as President Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along much of the 2,000-mile border between the two countries. Trump has spoken of a “big, beautiful” border barrier since his days as a candidate and, earlier this year, took a trip to San Diego to view prototypes. Many Americans and Mexicans alike have greeted the idea with disdain. A wall would be expensive ($18 billion, by the administration’s own estimation); redundant (some 700 miles of wall and fencing already exist); and, to some Mexicans, offensive. The leftist politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador has described the impulse behind the would-be structure as “neo-fascist”; he is leading in the polls to become Mexico’s next president.

Tijuanans, though, tend to view the idea of yet another wall with indifference. “We already have two walls. I’m not sure what another one would do,” says Miguel Marshall, a young entrepreneur in the city.

The walls were the first nudge that forced the city to focus inward and wean itself, over many years, from its dependence on easy money from elsewhere.

Tijuana has in many ways been a success story since the 1990s—and at least some of that success owes to the border walls. Over the years, the walls, along with bulked-up security, have imposed order on a chaotic border, where extortion, rape and robbery had been common. More broadly, the walls were the first nudge that forced the city to focus inward and wean itself, over many years, from its dependence on easy money from elsewhere. Eight former polleros I spoke with for this story, including Raul, told me that after the walls went up, their smuggling business began to taper off; they no longer facilitate illegal crossings. (Illegal immigrant apprehensions at the southwest border overall have dropped by more than 70 percent in that time, from well north of 1 million annually in the late 1990s to about 300,000 in the 2017 fiscal year.) Meanwhile, though for different reasons, U.S. tourism to Tijuana slowed substantially.

Over the past 24 years, including a decade living in Mexico City, I have made dozens of trips to Tijuana and watched the city slowly mature from a kind of wild west dependence on migrant-smuggling and American tourism to a more self-contained and economically viable metropolis. I grew fascinated by the emerging city that few in the United States seemed to recognize—a place with burgeoning opera and classical music scenes and a distinctive and high-quality cuisine known as Baja Med. In some areas, older buildings are being redeveloped and in-filled. Locals have created boutiques, clothing lines, microbreweries, small but striving tech and film industries, art galleries and more—all of which serve Tijuana’s middle class and a new cohort of rambunctious, globally aware hipsters who have grown up since the mid-1990s. Bus depots that once deposited tourists or prospective migrants near the border daily have closed. The old hooker hotels are fading, and lofts and artist spaces have sprouted up. Today, Tijuana’s economy is among the most robust in Mexico.

Tijuana continues to face its share of troubles. Drug trade-related murders have recently spiked, and as the United States sends undocumented immigrants back to Mexico, new flophouses have cropped up in Tijuana for deportees. Nor have illegal border crossings to the United States gone away, as has been made clear by the family-separation crisis at the U.S. border in recent weeks. But the time I’ve spent in Tijuana suggests that the walls at least were the first jolt in a citywide reinvention that has been largely positive. As the United States and Mexico face the prospect of a tougher border—whether Trump gets his wall or not—in Tijuana, at least, locals have stopped looking north quite so much as they once did.


Long before the walls went up, Tijuana was a village along a river, across the borderline from San Diego, dependent on the United States even for electricity. Easy money flowed, but it was American dollars, not pesos, that fueled commerce for much of the 20th century. Los Angelenos looking to avoid U.S. prohibitions on alcohol and gambling in the 1920s and ’30s, and later Hollywood partiers looking to have a good time, headed south over the border. In the following decades, the Avenida Revolución tourist strip developed into a place for Americans to get drunk and lose their inhibitions. For countless foreign visitors, this city was their idea of “Mexico”; people in the rest of the country, though, tended to view the town as barely Mexican.

As Mexico’s economy stumbled through the 1970s, Tijuana also emerged as a crossing point for illegal immigrants who hoped to tap the massive job markets in Southern California and the agricultural Central Valley. Its city limits began to leap east and south, unplanned and chaotic, filling with the poor from the country’s blighted rural interior. Back home, wherever they had come from, elites tended to blunt access to economic opportunity. But Tijuana, as it grew from a dusty village to a busy outpost of sin, was a blank slate where people could start small businesses and work their way into the middle class. Mexico’s rural poor collectively injected huge amounts of money and energy into the city’s economy.

The migrants seeking to cross into the United States supported a whole cottage industry of suppliers near the border selling them what they needed for the trip. According to the polleros I spoke with, one crossing area that was legendary became known as Las Canelas—The Cinnamons—for a spiced drink with a touch of alcohol to keep crossers warm at night. At Las Canelas, a marketplace materialized every afternoon as migrants congregated before crossing, and vendors came to sell them tacos, coffee, maps, shoes, coats, tampons, diapers and more. All this was abetted by the fact that, for decades, the border was simply a line that people crossed at will. By the 1980s, officials added a chain-link fence here and there, or strands of barbed wire, but both were easily broached. At times, Raul told me, Border Patrol officers had to push Las Canelas south—the vendors had unwittingly nudged into U.S. territory. The market continued through each night, he says, until, a few hours before dawn, when vendors would strike their stands. They would be back the next afternoon.

Officially, Tijuana grew from roughly 290,000 people in 1970 to close to 1 million by the 1990s. But even those figures seem conservative, given the vast river of people passing through the city during these decades, stopping for days or months before moving on. Over that time, the migrant-smuggling industry became a volume business; former polleros tell me they routinely herded groups of 20, 50, 70 people across the borderline, then crowded them into vans and trucks waiting a few hundred yards north that took them to Los Angeles and beyond, with each migrant paying a fee of a few hundred dollars.

Meanwhile, many people came to Tijuana intending to cross but stayed. They discovered new businesses they had never imagined back home. They sold hardware and building supplies to people, like them, who came and stayed. Others found work selling velvet paintings, serapes, plaster Mickey Mouse statues, tequila—and sex—to the Americans flowing south onto the Avenida Revolución every weekend. The money that came from crossing people or selling trinkets to Americans added little to the city’s own productivity or entrepreneurialism, however. Tijuana was, primarily, a way station.

In 1986, Congress responded to the chaotic flow of migrants by passing the Immigration Reform and Control Act, giving amnesty to some 3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States and enacting punishment for employers who hired undocumented workers. But the migrants continued to come; American employers continued to hire them with virtual impunity; and the Mexican economy continued to be unable to channel the energies of its young working classes. By the mid-1990s, undocumented immigrants in the United States would number some 5 million—equal to the number before IRCA.

The cost of crossing, migrants tell me, eventually skyrocketed to between $6,000 and $14,000 per person—perhaps the best measurement of how the border closed.

The administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton responded to the surge with a number of measures meant to keep out illegal migrants in the first place. They included the first wall on the California-Mexico border—the 14-mile steel structure—which the Border Patrol had completed by late 1993. In 1994 came “Operation Gatekeeper,” a federal initiative committing more Border Patrol resources to the San Diego area. That same year, California voters passed Proposition 187, which denied government services to those in the country illegally. A court later overturned the measure, but it was nonetheless a sign of American voters’ sentiments.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, forced heightened border security. The lines in Tijuana to cross legally into the United States grew to be hours long. The wall had already made it harder for Mexicans to jump the border northward; now the crossing was a hassle for American tourists as well, and their numbers began to dwindle.

But illegal immigration to the United States was still on the rise. So, in subsequent years, a second fence, roughly 100 yards into the U.S. interior, was constructed; it was largely completed by 2005. Around that same time, through a combination of federal and congressional action, the Border Patrol added more agents, sensors, lighting, cameras and other surveillance. Border Patrol apprehensions in San Diego fell from more than half a million in 1994 to 138,000 a decade later—and to just 26,000 last year. Over time, trafficking was no longer a game for independent operators; increasingly they had to leave the trade or join larger groups who could afford to pay Mexican authorities for protection or for more elaborate ways of smuggling individual immigrants across. Many polleros left the trade. Those who remained raised their prices. The mighty flows of migrants north from Tijuana ebbed. Las Canelas faded.

Then, from 2008 to 2010, savage drug-cartel violence erupted in a fight over territory between the reigning Tijuana cartel and its rivals. For a time, that, and the effects of the recession, all but extinguished the foreign tourism that had sustained much of the town since its birth. The Avenida Revolución tourist strip, which once buzzed with dollars and drunk Marines, was largely abandoned. The cost of crossing, migrants tell me, eventually skyrocketed to between $6,000 and $14,000 per person—perhaps the best measurement of how the border closed. Tijuana was left without the rivers of money from the south and north from which it had long lived.


At the same time, a class of young entrepreneurs, bilingual and eager to mix with the world, was quietly emerging from Tijuana’s middle class. Their parents had come in the 1970s and found work as vendors or, later, accountants in assembly plants, sacrificing so that their children could attend college and find more opportunity in the world.

Among them was Miguel Marshall. Marshall, 31, began his business career selling goods to American tourists on Avenida Revolución—rhinestone-studded T-shirts that he bought from Chinese and Israeli merchants in the Fashion District of Los Angeles. But as American tourism declined and the drug violence began to subside in 2011, a small hive of hipster bars and restaurants formed at Avenida Revolución and Sixth Street, and young artists crept onto the wasteland of Revolución, painting murals and provocative statements on the storefront shutters. Marshall, and other entrepreneurs of his generation, were “thirsty for a sense of being a Tijuanan, people from a city that’s typically not recognized,” he says. Without the traditional, easier ways of doing business, he continues, “I had to become more creative, think of other ways to make money. Then we saw the economics: abandoned buildings, cheap rent. It was easy to do something that looks nice cheaply.”

Soon they were transforming classic old Tijuana. Curio shops that once sold switchblades, velvet paintings and naked-lady playing cards to Americans became boutiques displaying fashions from local designers. Old taco shops became gourmet taco stands. Hotel Caesar’s, which houses the restaurant where the Caesar salad was famously invented, has remodeled and now features Baja-Med cuisine of grilled octopus, French onion soup and tamarind margaritas. The corridors—pasajes—that in Tijuana’s tourist heyday housed kitschy art galleries for Americans were abandoned for many years. They have now been reborn as gathering places for Tijuanans. The main corridor—Pasaje Rodriguez—is thick with cafés with young kids smoking and playing guitar, a bookstore and funky galleries, which come and go quickly amid walls painted with the visages of revolutionary Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican cultural critic Carlos Monsiváis.

Today, Tijuana’s population is more than 1.6 million; its unemployment hovers around 2 percent (compared with a national average of about 3.5 percent); and the city is enjoying a construction boom. It has also deepened its economic ties with San Diego, which is connected to the Tijuana airport by a walkway. Residents of each city attend concerts and sporting events in the other. At the port of entry in San Ysidro, part of the city of San Diego, the Las Americas Premium Outlets bustle with shoppers, many of whom cross legally from Tijuana. Tijuana pharmacies and hospitals survive largely off Americans coming south for cheaper medication or procedures. Meanwhile, San Ysidro remains the busiestland border crossing in the world—for legal migrants.

Of course, Tijuana’s growth is the result of more than just the city’s new entrepreneurial spirit. Assembly plants—making televisions, car parts and more for the U.S. market—have long employed much of the city’s working class. And Mexico’s economy, with a rising middle class, has grown overall in recent years, particularly in the industrial north, at least in part due to the North American Free Trade Agreement. What’s more, large parts of Tijuana remain shantytowns, with residents who might be surprised to hear that the city is changing at all.

The corridors—pasajes—that in Tijuana’s tourist heyday housed kitschy art galleries for Americans have now been reborn as gathering places for Tijuanans.

But in places like Pasaje Rodriguez, there is a palpable sense of reinvigoration, with businesses that serve a local clientele. A block away, the Sara building once housed a discount-clothing emporium. On the ground floor now is Baristi, a café of dark rough-cut wood offering coffee, wine and Wi-Fi. A floor above is a co-working space, and above that is a terrace reception area where Victor Rangel often works. Rangel, now 37, told me he was deported from the United States when he was 25, in the middle of studying to be a chef. After years of traipsing around Mexico, he has settled in Tijuana.

“We do have bars for gringos, but it’s started to die down,” Rangel says. “Now it’s more like bars and cocktails directed at the bicultural Tijuana kids.”

Marshall, meanwhile, started a co-working space called Hub Stn, in one of the very bus stations that used to transport thousands of Americans to Tijuana every weekend. When that was bought and razed for a movie theater, he turned to other properties. He has renovated a gas station—Estación Federal—near the borderline into a mix of apartments, co-working space, a café and offices that house an art gallery and more. Marshall also recently purchased one of the old hardware stores that sold so much of what built Tijuana for decades, and he is redeveloping that into a mix of lofts and retail.


Tijuana’s border walls haven’t been all good. The city’s inward turn has left behind many who devoted their youth to developing skills the informal smuggling economy demanded. Ex-polleros who did not die of murder or cirrhosis of the liver did a generally poor job of saving for their old age. Some are now taxi drivers, security guards or supermarket baggers; Raul caretakes vacant land near the coast owned by wealthy people who want it protected from squatters. It’s humbling work for men who ruled Tijuana back when it seemed the river of migrants would never end.

Despite enormous U.S. investment in border security, the flow of drugs, particularly heroin, continues at a time of widespread opiate addiction in America. Heroin, and now fentanyl, can be smuggled in small quantities—on one’s persons or by car. Today, the Baja region remains a major conduit for drug traffickers. The violence that subsided in 2011 has recently returned, as two cartels have competed for control of the local retail drug trade. Last year was Tijuana’s deadliest on record.

Today, the city is grappling with a different kind of migrant: deportees ejected from America and from the families and lives they built there. The Obama administration deported as many as 2 million people in eight years, many of them to Mexico; the Trump administration has continued this policy. Many of these deportees know no one in Mexico and, without Mexican birth certificates, drivers’ licenses or voter cards, which they have either lost or never possessed, they are truly “undocumented” in their own homelands. So, they stay in Tijuana, figuratively pressed up against the fence, unable to imagine not going back to their family members in America and unwilling to move into Mexico’s interior, which is a foreign country to them.

Many of them clump near the old Coahuila red light district, living on the street, mired in drugs and alcohol and often, they tell me, the target of police assault. Some deportees stay, when they can, in the hooker hotels where optimistic migrants once rested before crossing north. In the past few years, new flophouses have opened catering to deportees. On a Sunday morning recently, outside one such place, fittingly called the Hotel del Migrante, worn-out men in faded baseball caps, dirty jeans and dilapidated shoes stood in the morning sun, some with hands raised, as a group of Christian missionaries held a praise service in the street before feeding the men.

“They have a whole lot to give,” says Martin Gutierrez, a cab driver who was stopped nearby. “[Tijuana] needs to get all these deportees and channel them.” A deportee himself, Gutierrez, 53, told me he had overcome homelessness and alcoholism. “It’s them who need to change their walk and their ways,” he adds, “to make things happen for themselves.”

These are strange exhortations for men whose lives have been built on making the most of the few assets they possess. But it’s the lesson Tijuana has had to learn since the 1990s, when that first wall changed so much. A city that grew on the energy of migrants coming north every year in hopes of a new life now must absorb many of those same people returning, often worn out and sometimes even clinically depressed. Finding ways of inspiring deportees to productivity stands as one of the city’s most daunting challenges.

Still, the city of Tijuana has managed to redefine itself, and this set of people—arrested in America, sent back to Mexico, starting over—are going to have to do the same. “Over here in Mexico, you’re a whole new person,” Gutierrez says, watching the missionaries sing to the line of deflated men. “You don’t have no prison record. You have your ID. You can use your name. You don’t have to hide. You’re a whole new you.”

Caged Children at Border


A youth migrant shelter in El Cajon opened its doors to journalists on Friday amid a public outcry about the Trump administration’s practice of separating families at the border.

Casa San Diego houses 65 boys between the ages of 6 and 17. About 10 percent of the boys were separated from their parents by the U.S. government, according to Gerardo Rivera, associate vice president of immigrant children’s services for Southwest Key Programs, the nonprofit that runs the shelter.

Rivera downplayed the difficulties that family separation has brought to the shelter, saying that Southwest Key — which operates 27 shelters in California, Arizona and Texas — is used to dealing with kids who are upset or traumatized for a number of reasons, including gang violence in their home countries.

“This is not a new thing for us in the shelters,” he said. “These kids come in and they’re traumatized from a long time ago.”

Rivera said even the boys at the shelter who crossed the border alone are dealing with family separation anxieties because some of them lost parents to crime in Central America or had to say goodbye to loved ones at home.

The Department of Homeland Security transfers children to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which places them in shelters like Casa San Diego. Shelters proliferated after 1997, when the Supreme Court ruled that immigrant minors could not be held in detention like adults. Case managers at the shelters try to find sponsors or foster care for the children, with an 1:8 ratio of case managers to children.

On Friday, a group of boys played soccer on a small blacktop area sandwiched by two beige one-story buildings of the shelter. Another group read picture books and novels in a classroom. When journalists entered the room, the teacher had the boys recite “good morning” in Spanish, Portuguese and other languages.

The boys stay three or four to a room on twin-sized beds with one bathroom per room, with lights out at 9 p.m. Their walls are decorated with sketches and printouts, including images of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and typed quotes such as “When you are sad, just think that for God you are special.”

Rivera showed us the intake room where the children are processed by a computer, a desk and a closet full of deodorant and clothing.

“This is where we calm them down,” he said. “Some kids come in with thorns (in their bodies) … once you eat you feel much better.”

The average stay at the facility is just over 50 days, but one child recently stayed for about 260 days, according to shelter staff. The shelter has had runaways in the past. When asked about the difficulties of getting the children in touch with mothers and fathers in detention or criminal proceedings, the Southwest Key staff said only that “the main issue” is locating them.

Reporters were not allowed to interview any of the children, nor to bring any recording device of any kind into the shelter. The government provided still photographs and some video of the shelter’s interior.

On Thursday, a much larger shelter in Brownsville held a similar tour for journalists.

Casa San Diego is one of three youth migrant shelters in San Diego County, including one in Lemon Grove and another in El Cajon. The main hallway features a prominent mural of Superman. Another hallway features instructions on how to shave, warning the boys not to shave their eyebrows or any part of their body besides their jaws, and to return the razors after they are done.

The children are allowed two 10-minute phone calls a week, supervised by staff. When asked why they aren’t allowed to make more or longer phone calls, Rivera said it was the policy of Office of Refugee Resettlement but added that if a family member is sick or if it’s a holiday, children get to make additional phone calls.

The children also see mental health professionals twice a week, once on an individual basis and once in a group setting.

The clinician, Micah Caldwell, said he is on call if any of the children become inconsolable and need to be comforted at night.

Staff members said the children are sometimes taken on field trips to the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park. They get two hours of recreation a day and six hours of educational programming. On Fridays and Saturdays, they get to watch movies and eat popcorn.

The children also get to elect a student council — a vice president and president — to bring concerns to the program director once a week. Rivera said they mostly ask for better food and movies.

According to Brian Marriot, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Refugee Resettlement currently has 11,351 children in custody nationwide, with 605 open beds and more coming. He said that he was “hinting” at coming announcements with this comment, suggesting that the Trump administration plans to designate more areas for immigrant children in addition to a tent city in Tornillo, Texas.

%d bloggers like this: