Welcome to Tijuana – or not | American-Mexican border

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In February 2017, Guadalupe Olivas Valencia, a Mexican in his 40s, committed suicide by jumping from a bridge in Tijuana, Mexico, which is just across the border from San Diego, California.

The suicide took place minutes after Olivas Valencia was deported from the United States for the third time. Symbolically, he jumped up holding the plastic bag given to him by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for his personal effects, as CBP usually does for deportees.

Today, almost five years later, U.S. border policy continues to destroy lives – and Tijuana continues to serve as an epicenter of destruction.

Joe Biden’s administration just reinstated the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) – the criminally euphemistic policy of the Donald Trump era that saw Tijuana and other Mexican border towns converted into asylum seekers’ pens asylum in the United States.

According to a 2019 US Department of Homeland Security press release, the MPP was “unprecedented action” that “would help restore a safe and orderly immigration process … and reduce threats to life, national security and public safety, while ensuring that vulnerable populations receive the protections they need ”.

In reality, of course, the arrangement simply made vulnerable populations even more vulnerable, as asylum seekers trapped at the border were forced to face extortion, kidnappings, sexual violence and various other things. life-threatening dangers – in other words, the same kind of environment that many of them fled in the first place.

The whole setup was all the more barbaric, of course, given the historically pronounced role of the United States in generating the physical and economic violence that renders people’s homelands uninhabitable – from Honduras to Haiti and beyond. of the.

As the MPP program takes a new lease of life, the lives of people on the go in Tijuana remain on the line.

The coronavirus pandemic has provided the US government with an additional practical excuse to summarily deport asylum seekers in violation of international law – even though US citizens have been allowed to cross the US-Mexico border as many times as they wish. whether or not they are vaccinated.

And yet, pandemic and MPP aside, the United States has continued to undermine the very principle of asylum. The American Immigration Council website notes that although US law clearly states that anyone “physically present in the United States or who” arrives at the border must have the opportunity to apply for asylum, ” CBP agents along the southern border with Mexico have categorically “turned back thousands of people who show up at ports of entry seeking protection, including through a practice known as ‘counting'” .

This particular practice began in 2016 “mainly at the San Ysidro port of entry”, the border post between Tijuana and San Diego.

I visited Tijuana in November of this year and received a personalized tour of the landscape of psychological torture of migrants in the backyard of the United States, thanks to a longtime migrant rights activist based in Tijuana. who prefers to be identified only as Cris.

Noting the “widespread violations of due process” by the United States in terms of processing asylum claims, Cris stressed that making asylum seekers wait at the border to seek asylum was something was “unthinkable” just five years ago – and that its standardization illustrates how “a lot of very basic legal concepts are broken at all levels” (and at the border).

As we walked past Tijuana’s iconic “Monumental Arch”, which marks the entrance to downtown, Cris described the arch as symbolic of entrepreneurial capital which, thanks to “free trade” agreements, allowed to fly over the US-Mexico border during asylum, researchers remain trapped below.

Fittingly, Cris said, there was a “Welcome to Tijuana” sign under the arch, but it was removed precisely on the day a group of activists launched a migrant rights organization in the city. It has been replaced by a giant television screen.

Our tour of Tijuana also included the El Chaparral migrant camp next to the border, a dark and cold agglomeration of tents that had just been fenced off by city officials, prompting the following quote from a local: from camp in San Diego Drive: “They’re putting us in cages like we’re animals.”

The sense of oppression there was probably not helped by the overhead helicopter, which Cris said brought back memories of November 2018, when US law enforcement began throwing gas. tear gas to asylum seekers gathered at the passage of San Ysidro.

How is that to protect vulnerable populations?

The tear gas had occurred just days before the United States, Mexico, and Canada signed a new, improved free trade agreement to allow capital, you know, to continue to soar.

After passing El Chaparral, Cris and I crossed the bridge towards San Diego – not far from where Guadalupe Olivas Valencia committed suicide in 2017.

On the bridge, we chatted with a middle-aged man from the Mexican state of Michoacán, who had lived for four years in Tijuana after being deported from the United States and spoke to us mainly in English with an American accent. .

While he usually devoted himself to selling flowers he made from palm branches, he had now branched out into yarn-based designs and presented me with a pink and blue item that involved a ring. with a protruding extension. I asked him what it was and he laughed, “Who knows”.

He was regularly detained, he tells us, by the Tijuana police who, although in blatant conflict with local methamphetamine distributors and others, did not hesitate to arrest people – especially asylum seekers and others. deportees – for drug-related allegations. offenses.

Each detention lasted 36 hours, which naturally made it difficult to accomplish other things in life.

As Cris and I walked back from the bridge towards the arch, Manu Chao’s song “Welcome to Tijuana” inevitably came to mind, with its rhyming lyrics: “Tequila, sexo y marijuana”.

And while those lyrics certainly sound more catchy than, say, “suicide, animal cages and erasure of human rights,” another line from the song rings true for many of the city’s captive migrants: ” Bienvenida a la muerte ”-“ Welcome to death ”.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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