“El bordo” (as locals in Tijuana called the dry, canalised river), right in front of the US border, is a place where migrants, deported people and drug users, hang around and sleep in improvised cardboard houses
Tijuana was once famous as an easy place for migrants to cross into the US. Over the years what used to be a fence separating the two countries, became a massive militarised wall, especially after 9/11. Since then, crossing the border in Tijuana has become increasingly complicated. More and more people end up stacked in the city, without money to come back to their place of origin, without job opportunities, or a place to sleep and rapidly falling in a circle of poverty and drugs.
El bordo represents for many people a broken dream, the end of a journey, the end of the American dream. For others is a social problem, the epicentre of drugs and criminals a lawless part of the city, an uncomfortable community resisting to disappear.
SHACKLES FROM THE KIDNAPPERS
This morning I woke up to a friend’s phone call, telling me that she was at the hospital with a migrant woman, who had just managed to escape from her kidnappers.
She was holding a toddler, her face was totally swollen, she could hardly open one eye and was covered in blood. She was in a terrible state. But what struck me the most was that she was still wearing the plastic shackles used to restrain her by the kidnappers.
Somehow, the two pieces of black plastic attached to her ankle, forced me to face the harsh reality of the suffering people and what they endure when travelling illegally to the States and what those shackles really represent.
Shackles attached to poor people that risk the unimaginable in search of a better life. The shackles that the so-called “first world” put on the people of poorer countries. Shackles of colonisation that is still so visible today, because they are still colonising in many different ways. Shackles of bureaucracy and negligence from the authorities dealing with cases like her. Shackles that stop us from looking at the reality, because we don’t want to see it. Because these shackles represent yet another horror story on the Mexican northern border, but really it could be one of many borders.
ON HER WAY TO CALIFORNIA
I was on my way to the “Reggae on the River” festival in California, when I met Olisea, a migrant girl from Honduras. She asked if I could help her to change buses in Los Angeles, as she didn’t know how to do it and she couldn’t speak any English. I told her I was going on the same direction and that we could travel together.
On the way she told me her story. She had been traveling for nearly a month. She had paid $6000 to a “Coyote” to take her to the States. She had traveled in different vans all the way from Honduras to the Mexican border, where after waiting for few days, she was smuggled with 60 other people in the back of a track.
“It was so hot, and dark, we traveled for almost a day without stopping, all the way to Mexico City. There, we where moved from van to van until we made it into northern Mexico, it took almost two weeks. Then there was another long wait to find another “Coyote” in Altar, Sonora. Finally we spent 10 days crossing the desert. We walked for two days without stopping, the coyotes where nice, always taking care of the ladies. We were so lucky, other coyotes hate women, we where told, but they where nice and they keep on joking with us. Once we got to Phoenix the Coyotes took us to a security house, waiting for our families to pay the rest of the money and come to pick us up, the border patrol came into the house and detained all of us. I couldn’t believe it. After 10 days crossing the desert they found us once we were safe. I wanted to cry. Then in the detention centre they asked for $7000 bail and my sister paid for it. Only god knows why. But now I am here and I am going to work so hard to pay all that money back. I am so happy”.
I was glad to hear her story, it was hard but it worked out in the end for her. Wish her the best.
BUY ME A MARUCHAN
Could you buy me a Maruchan please? I’m hungry. The smily woman told me as soon as I got close to her.
So I went to Oxxo store and looked at the instant soup’s section, to my surprised there were so many brands and flavours, prawn, beef,chicken, vegetable…. an infinite sea of bright boxes of cheap noodles, with flavoured dust.
I found the boiling water and before I had the chance to open it up, I heard a penetrating screaming voice, almost in panic – You have to pay for the soup before you pour the water!
I never had to pay for a coffee before having it served at an Oxxo, but rules are rules and I didn’t dare questioning the woman with the dirty look.
Once I paid, I realised that I was being charged extra for boiling water and the plastic spoon. So this time I decided to breath deeply and said, -why the extras? I never have to pay for them when I buy coffee? Of course, I got not answer. They are workers following Oxxo rules.
Only then, I realised that this is the favourite Oxxo for migrants as its close to the rail tracks and is a good place to gather and kill few hours, waiting for the next train to pass on its way north.
-You think better on a full stomach, you know? Camila said, and we started chatting.
A BLACK BOTTLE OF WATER
I have never seen before a black bottle of water, in fact I can’t think of any company that would produce them, as we normally associate black bottles with bleach or another non drinkable liquid.
However, these can be found all over the migrant trails in the Arizona desert. When I looked closely I found they were produced in Altar, Mexico. A dusty sleepy town were nothing seems to be happening, near the US border.
If you go to Altar, be careful, It’s a dangerous area, I was told by everyone I asked. The general explanation was that everything comes illegally in and out of the border, drugs, arms and of course humans…and everything is controlled by different traffickers.
Altar is also the place where migrants come to get a “Coyote” to guide them through the desert, into the US.
Most businesses in town are one way or another related to the crossing of the desert. Camouflage bags, blankets, trainers, garlic to keep the snakes away, energy drinks, even blessed contraception pills.
Its well documented that women are often raped on the journey so the local priest has taken a different approach to the general view of the Catholic church, that is against contraception, and decided to bless the pills. This way catholic women can take them before they start their journey.
And of course, I also found black bottles of water.
TRACKS FROM THE TRAIL
The U.S border patrol agents use different methods to apprehend the so called “illegal immigrants,” from Seismic sensors buried into the sand, computerized fingerprinting and photography to keep track of individuals, to more traditional methods such us, looking for footprints and tracks.
Border patrol also drag heavy wheels attached to their cars, to clear the dusty roads, so if someone walks on the road, they can get fresh tracks. This method is use along the separation wall among other paths, forcing migrants to walk on their knees, or sometimes barefoot, to avoid leaving any tracks.
The increased militarisation of the border, the methods they use and the higher number of agents being sent to the U.S/Mexico border, means that migrants are going into more isolated areas in the desert, looking for new places to enter and therefore, take much higher risks in order to cross.
However, not mass deportations and criminalisation of poverty, not the militarisation of the border will ever reduce effectively the number of migrants crossing illegally, it will only increase the number of or deaths in the desert.
GREYHOUND BUS STATION
From Monday to Friday, migrants are released from ICE detention center and left in the car park of Greyhound Bus Company in Tucson, Arizona. Most of them are fighting asylum cases, or other migration processes. These people are left in the middle of the night, with their belongings on the floor, without any money or support from the government, at the bus station.
Some have money to go back to their friends and families, or they have arranged to have money sent over to them, through Western Union, so they can buy a bus ticket to go home. However, others don’t have any resources or families to help them, and they have not idea what are they going to do, or where are they going to spent the night. Sometimes, there is not ticket at the bus station, or there has been a problem sending the money over and complications began.
Some of these men and women have fled their countries running from wars, or are victims of violence, torture, political persecution, or have spent days walking trough the desert to get to the US and are in a very vulnerable stage.
There are a couple of non-government organisations, like The Restoration Project at Casa Mariposa, that send volunteers to the bus station every night to help people getting a bus ticket or finding a place to sleep for few days if necessary, until they find a mow permanent place to stay.
However, this is only a small gleams of the journey they have gone trough to get to the USA.