As large numbers of Central American migrants continue arriving in Tijuana in hopes of crossing to the United States, one thing has become abundantly clear: They won't be leaving anytime soon.
TIJUANA, Mexico — As large numbers of Central American migrants continue arriving in Tijuana in hopes of crossing to the United States, one thing has become abundantly clear: They won't be leaving anytime soon.
For state and municipal officials, this has prompted growing anxiety about providing food, shelter, health care, and other services while the migrants wait for a turn to apply for asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry — or reach other decisions about their future.
"We're estimating that they will be here at least six months, and in some cases as long as a year and a half," said Francisco Rueda Gomez, Baja California's secretary-general.
Five days after an initial group of 77 caravan members arrived in Tijuana, the total by Friday had reached 2,679, according to Mexico's National Migration Institute.
A smaller number, 657, remained in Mexicali, the state capital. More than 3,000 others were in the states of Sonora and Sinaloa, and presumably headed to Baja California, an immigration official said.
The Honduran ambassador to Mexico, Alden Rivera Montes, announced the immediate opening of a consular mobile office in Tijuana. He said staff will attend to the needs of Hondurans who make up the majority of the caravan, providing birth certificates and other documents and ensuring their rights in Mexico and as they approach the U.S. border for asylum.
Many Honduran migrants, "travel invisibly, that is to say without documents," Rivera said.
The growing presence of the Central American caravan members has caused a wide range of reaction in Tijuana over the past five days.
Many are calling for more federal presence and resources to address the situation and state and local officials have asked Mexico's federal government to provide about $4 million to support local efforts to house the migrant. They are awaiting a reply.
Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum has criticized Mexican federal authorities for allowing the continued flow to his city. "Why Tijuana? Why not Matamoros? Ciudad Juarez?"
"It's a tsunami," he said at a news conference. "This situation is purposely orchestrated, with the intention of harming Tijuana," he said without specifying who might be behind the group.
The mayor is calling for a referendum that would allow city residents to express their concerns about the large number of caravan members ending up in the city. He has also suggested checkpoints at the city's entrance, but Friday called them "an extreme" measure, suggesting that he was not yet prepared to take such a step.
Gastelum has come under much criticism from migrant advocates for his comments made in an interview Thursday on Milenio TV, a Mexican national television network, in which he complained about the arrival of the caravan members. "Some of them are a bunch of bums, smoking marijuana in the street, and attacking our families in Playas de Tijuana," he said. "Who is leading them?"
Several of the migrants said they were aware that their presence in Tijuana has created tension. Cristian Herrera, 24, said he was present in Playas de Tijuana when a confrontation broke out between a group of migrants and residents who were protesting their presence.
"They called us dogs and told us they didn't want us here," Herrera said. A companion got hit in the face with a rock, he said.
Another migrant, Sonia Gonzalez, did not completely disagree with the mayor, but was nonetheless stung by his comments. "There are some bad people here but we are not all like that. It isn't fair that we are all judged for the actions of a small group of people."
Maria Santos Perez, 29, said she was grateful for the warm reception the people of Tijuana have given her and her 7-year-old son.
"The Mexican people have taken good care of us," she said. "They've supported us very well so I can't say anything negative about the Mexican people."
However, Perez said, the situation could change when more migrants arrive if the city is unable to handle them.
"I'm worried about my son," she said.