As Migrants Arrive En Masse, Tijuana Mayor Declares ‘Humanitarian Crisis’

Tijuana shelters for migrants are well over capacity. Photo: PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images

There is a “humanitarian crisis” taking place in Tijuana, the mayor of the Mexican border town declared on Thursday, as nearly 5,000 Central American migrants overwhelmed the city.

“We don’t have sufficient and necessary infrastructure to adequately attend to these people, to give them a decent space,” Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum said on local radio.

At a press conference Thursday, he said he’s asking international aid organizations, including the United Nations, to step in where the Mexican federal government has failed. “They have categorically omitted and not complied with their legal obligations,” he said of the Feds. “So we’re now asking them and international humanitarian aid groups to bring in and carry out humanitarian assistance.”

Gastélum also refused to dig deeper into local coffers. “I will not compromise public services,” he said. “I will not spend Tijuanans’ money, I will not bring Tijuana into debt now, in the same way we haven’t done so these past two years.”

The city estimates it’s already spent $27,000 each day to house the migrants, most of whom are staying in a local sports complex that’s been converted into a shelter. Expected to hold 3,000 migrants itself, the stadium quickly reached capacity, resulting in people spilling into the streets.

Outside the El Chaparral port of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo: PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images

While the migrants were generally welcomed as they passed through towns further south in Mexico, they’ve been met with a mixed reception by residents of Tijuana. Religious groups have provided assistance and the Baja California state government is helping some migrants find work, but earlier this week hundreds of locals protested the arrival of the migrants.

On Sunday, anti-caravan protesters chanted: “Out Hondurans, we don’t want you here,” “Tijuana first” and “Long live Mexico,” and waved Mexican flags and signs reading “no to the invasion” and “no more migrants.”

The group, which at its height numbered about 300, gathered in front of a statue of the Aztec warrior Cuauhtémoc before making their way to a sports complex serving as a temporary shelter to about 2,500 migrants from the caravan.

Some of the migrants have taken to protesting too. On Thursday, a group of around 150 marched on a border crossing to demand better conditions. “There are sick children here, and we are cold and hungry,” said Carlos Lopez, a Honduran who participated in the march. “The whole world is watching what is happening here.”

Most of the migrants are eager to apply for asylum in the United States, but that will take some time. The Washington Post reports that the main border crossing in San Diego processes only 100 asylum claims a day and the waiting list is already thousands of names long.

As Migrants Arrive, Tijuana Mayor Declares ‘Crisis’