Asylum seekers in Tijuana protest disparities in treatment at US border

Asylum seekers and their supporters marched toward the border between San Diego and Tijuana on Monday in a demonstration against a border policy that has prevented thousands of people from applying for protection in the United States.

They also criticized the disparities caused by the policy, known as Title 42, whereby Ukrainians are now allowed to cross and apply for protection while asylum seekers from other parts of the world are rejected.

As part of the demonstration, a small group of asylum seekers attempted to seek protection at the port of entry in San Ysidro, but were told by CBP officials that they could not enter.

Organized by the Defend Asylum group, the march has marked two years since the Trump administration put Title 42 into effect, under which border agents can deny entry to asylum seekers and other illegal immigrants. If they attempt to cross into US soil without permission, the policy states that officials can expel them and return them to Mexico or their countries of origin.

“Seeking asylum is the right of anyone in danger in their country of origin,” said Francel, the Haitian asylum-seeker, speaking in Spanish. “We ask that there are no more Section 42, or more deportations that put people’s lives at risk.”

He said his sister died last year after being deported under Title 42 to Haiti.

“Address 42 deprives me of the right to be happy, and of my children’s right to live with dignity. It deprives me of the right to peace and deprives me of spending the weekend in the park with my children,” a Mexican woman who asked to be identified as Marie in Spanish said.

A Jalisco woman named Mary speaks during a press conference before walking with about 50 asylum seekers and activists to the San Ysidro Pedestrian Entry Port to protest Door 42.

(Anna Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

CBP did not respond to a request for comment. The Biden administration has said Address 42 is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, but critics, including many public health experts, have questioned the policy’s validity.

Asked earlier about the differences in who can apply for protection, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Address 42 arrangement was still in effect.

“The Department of Homeland Security continues to act in accordance with this order to the fullest extent possible,” the spokesperson said. “In line with the CDC’s order, the Department of Homeland Security excludes individuals at particular risk, on a case-by-case basis, from Title 42 on humanitarian grounds.”

Marie, 34, said she fled Jalisco with her children due to threats from organized crime and her ex-partner and arrived in Tijuana about seven months ago. While the family was waiting, their granddaughter was born.

The baby, aged 1 month and 15 days, was the youngest participant in the march out of about 50 people.

A one-month-old baby walked with his parents towards the San Ysidro Pedestrian Entry Port

A one-month-old baby and his parents walked toward the San Ysidro pedestrian entry port to protest Address 42 on Monday in Tijuana.

(Anna Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Carolina, a 58-year-old trans woman from Mexico, said she was there to represent the LGBTQ community as well as older immigrants.

“I don’t feel safe in my country,” Carolina said. “Ukrainians have a right, too [a pedir asilo] Because of what is happening to them, but they should give us the same opportunity.”

Guerline Jozef, of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, read a statement written by a group of Jamaican women stuck in Tijuana after fleeing their country due to threats and discrimination they face for being lesbian. The group did not want to introduce itself to the media.

The women said they faced discrimination both in Tijuana and in their country. They wrote that while they were in downtown Tijuana, they were taken into custody by city police and held in Mexican immigration custody for 16 days, adding that this was the worst time of their lives.

“It hurts not to be able to live freely and be ourselves,” Joseph said. “We want to live. We don’t want to die. We want to be free.”

Protesters chanted as they walked from a nearby migrant shelter to a footbridge near the port of San Ysidro.

They sang “Immigrants to the front”, “For asylum”.

They carried bilingual signs that included “We all have the right to life” and “We are immigrants and human beings.”

A smaller group of asylum seekers – the Mary and Carolina family and the Guerrero family – approached the line to try to apply for protection in the US, joined by lawyers, activists and the press.

A group of protesters wait on a pedestrian bridge overlooking the port of San Ysidro

A group of protesters wait on a pedestrian bridge overlooking the Port of San Ysidro as a smaller group attempts to plead with the United States for protection.

(Anna Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Mexican policy had the group pass through a driveway instead of a sidewalk, where pedestrians wait to cross the border. Since last week, a chain link fence has been installed separating the sidewalk from the driveway. When the group reached the border line, a newly installed crowd control fence prevented the group from approaching the pedestrian entrance. Customs and Border Protection agents and plainclothes officers were watching from within the United States.

An officer with a “Schneider” name card stepped forward to speak to the group. shook his head.

Mary did not know exactly what the woman said, because Schneider spoke in English, but she knew what she meant.

“It was a resounding rejection,” Mary said.

Mary said she was heartbroken and rejected when she returned to the shelter.

“I feel like we’re worthless,” he added.

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