Latinos stranded at Mexican border as Ukrainians cross into US
Tijuana (Mexico) (AFP) – Thousands of Latino refugees arrive each year in the Mexican city of Tijuana, dreaming of one day crossing the border that separates them from the United States.
But as Ukrainians who fled the Russian invasion recently began crossing the same border with little delay, many Latinos stuck in the wait for months are wondering why they aren’t being treated the same way.
“Why don’t we, neighbors of the United States, have the same possibility of applying for asylum? We came here fleeing almost the same thing,” said L., a 44-year-old Mexican.
Due to the war raging in their homeland, Ukrainians have been granted special humanitarian clearance to enter the United States. Washington said last month it would take in up to 100,000 refugees.
Thousands of Ukrainians have since traveled to Tijuana to cross the land border into the United States – easier than getting the visa required to fly direct.
Volunteers in Tijuana and the nearby US town of San Ysidro say that, on average, new Ukrainian arrivals only wait two or three days before crossing, using an entrance reserved for them.
“I think we all deserve a chance,” L.’s wife said with tears in her eyes.
The couple fled their central Mexico hometown of Irapuato with their three children, taking only a change of clothes, after suspected cartel members burned down their home and the bakery where they made a living.
Staring at the ground and clutching a piece of paper nervously in her shaking hands, the woman spoke to AFP hesitantly, refusing to give her name for fear that something would happen to her or her family.
“We didn’t come here by choice but by necessity – we endured a lot of violence,” she said.
“We want to give them a better life,” she added, pointing to her children, who live in one of the tents at the Movimiento Juventud 2000 shelter.
The family is just three blocks from the Unidad Deportiva Benito Juarez, which has become the staging post for thousands of Ukrainians.
“Why don’t they give us a chance? she asked.
“Almost a war”
The contrast between the two shelters could hardly be more striking.
At Movimiento Juventud 2000, the atmosphere is heavy with frustration and sadness, while at Benito Juarez relief and hope abound.
Volunteers at the Ukrainian shelter have created a database to track the rapid turnover of asylum seekers.
By Saturday afternoon, more than 2,600 Ukrainians had registered.
At Movimiento Juventud 2000, some families have been waiting six months for a change in border restrictions that would allow them to apply for asylum.
R., who also declined to give his full name, is from Honduras and has five children, ages one to nine. She said they were forced to leave their town eight years ago when her husband, a journalist, was attacked.
They fled to Guatemala, where her husband received medical treatment. But they realized they couldn’t stay when one of the doctors treating him was murdered.
Another attempt to rebuild their lives in Mexico failed when a flood destroyed their new home, and so the family headed for the US border, encouraged by the election of Democratic President Joe Biden.
“We’ve been asking for asylum since we’ve been living in Guatemala, but it’s been a long time and we’re still waiting,” she says, sitting on a plastic bucket next to the tent the whole family has been sleeping in for months.
The youngest of her babies learned to walk between the tents.
Like the Ukrainians, “we too came fleeing,” she said.
“It’s different, but it’s almost a gang war… there’s no going back.”
Thanks to donations from both sides of the border, Ukrainian volunteers have set up a children’s playground in their shelter.
Toys, pencils and books are available, with a new crate of plastic yellow ducks arriving on Saturday.
Nearby, young Haitian, Mexican and Central American children have no dedicated space and few materials, although they are entertained a few times a week by UNICEF workers and individual volunteers.
Teacher Nelly Cantu, who is part of that effort, says she was approached to help at the Ukrainian shelter, but decided to stay put.
“Besides the language barrier, I preferred to stay here because the children need me. They have suffered a lot and have less support. It is also a war,” she said.
Some 125 people, mostly from Haiti and Central America, live in the six-person shelter, its manager Jose Maria Garcia said.
“We try to explain to them that they have to be patient,” Garcia said.
© 2022 AFP