Daniel and Martín Castillo, both farmers back in Guatemala, joined the migrant route through Mexico to the U.S. border — hoping to find jobs and build lives safe from crime. But after enduring two consecutive attacks this week at a Tijuana migrant shelter, the brothers from the Quetzaltenango region said they are more frightened than ever.
“We fled a violent situation there, and we find the same thing here,” said Daniel Castillo, 28.
The Pueblo Sin Fronteras caravan has brought much attention in recent days to the issue of Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty and hoping to find asylum in the United States. While more than 200 presented themselves in recent days at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, untold numbers of Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans remain in Mexico — some still waiting to cross, others opting to stay in Mexico.
With no legal immigration status in Mexico, “they are highly vulnerable people, they don’t have money, they don’t have anything,” said Soraya Vázquez, of Espacio Migrante, a Tijuana nonprofit.
The caravan, criticized by President Donald Trump, was the largest such group of Central American migrants to have crossed Mexico in recent years. Traveling in a group has been a means of self-protection for those undocumented migrants who are preyed upon by criminals and corrupt officials; but for organizers, it has also been a means of raising awareness of the situation.
Caravan members “did it to be safe crossing through Mexico, they did not do it to engage with U.S. immigration policy,” said Ev Meade, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. “It’s really a small number that’s attracted a disproportionate amount of attention.”
Caravan leaders said that the group swelled to close to 1,700 at one point, but by the time it reached Tijuana late last month, the total was closer to 400.
Days after the caravan has dissipated, many participants who have remained in Mexico say they continue to need protection. In Hermosillo, capital of Sonora state, 15 caravan members launched a hunger strike on Monday outside the offices of Mexico’s National Migration Institute, saying that Mexican officials have yet to comply with a commitment to grant humanitarian visas that would allow them to live and work in Mexico for an extended period.
“As long as you have legal status, and some security that you’re going to keep it for awhile, you’re not going to be quite as susceptible to being preyed upon,” said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America.
This week, Vázquez of Espacio Migrante helped raise bus fare to the state of Sonora for three Honduran brothers, all caravan members who want to stay in Mexico, while their family members cross the border and ask for U.S. asylum. But they are eager to get out of Tijuana, where they feel unsafe, and hope for jobs as farmworkers in Caborca.
About 80 people were still debating this week whether to ask for U.S. asylum, said Erika Pinheiro, an attorney with Al Otro Lado, a nonprofit group with offices in Tijuana and Los Angeles that has been advising caravan participants. On Monday, she laid out the possibility of asylum in Mexico as she addressed some two dozen caravan members — an option Central American migrants have increasingly sought.
Among those listening was Jenny Carolina López, 28, a former housekeeper from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula who said she already has been deported from the United States to Honduras three times. “I have faith that God will open doors for me, so that I can stay here and find a good job,” she said, planning to stay in Mexico.
In Tijuana this week, two attacks on a shelter south of downtown Tijuana served to underscore the dangers some continue to face. The assaults targeted the modest Catholic-run Caritas Tijuana shelter, located in the middle of a low-income hillside neighborhood rising from a narrow street known as Cañón K.
The first attack came at about 1:40 a.m. Sunday, when shelter occupants were awoken by six armed assailants — some with their faces covered — who stole money, cellphones, identification documents and clothes.
Early Monday, a dozen migrants sharing rooms on the top floor were jolted awake by smoke and flames: someone had barred their door with a mattress, and set it on fire. “There is no justification for this,” said Leticia Herrera Hernández, the shelter’s director. “These are aggressions against people who are completely defenseless.”
While no suspects have been caught, Herrera believes that the attacks are coming from people in the neighborhood who don’t want the shelter there. Tijuana police have since posted a patrol officer outside, but that didn’t prevent someone from hurling a rock at the building when a San Diego Union-Tribune photographer stopped by early Tuesday afternoon.
In the meantime, Martín and Daniel Castillo remained at the shelter with their wives because they have nowhere to go.
“We’ve tried to look for work, so we can rent a house, but we can’t because we don’t have documents,” Daniel Castillo said.
Herrera said that as victims of violence, the Castillos could be granted permits to live and work in Mexico.