Asylum Seekers Rely On Ad Hoc Group Of Migrant Coordinators
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
And now to the thousands of migrants who are in limbo in northern Mexico, waiting to get an asylum interview here in the United States. They are relying on an ad hoc group of organizers who determine everything - from the order of who gets to be seen by U.S. authorities to conditions at a temporary shelter. Emily Green reports from Tijuana.
EMILY GREEN, BYLINE: The same scene plays out every morning at a small plaza by the entrance to the footbridge connecting Mexico and the U.S. Migrants from all over the world line up behind a white, plastic table. One by one, they give their names and ID to a volunteer behind a table.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).
GREEN: After taking down the information about Marvin and his four kids, the volunteer gives him a number written on a tiny slip of paper, like what you find in fortune cookies. This slip of paper is his family's ticket to apply for asylum in the U.S.
ANGEL HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
GREEN: Around 9 a.m. on the same plaza, a group of around 100 migrants huddle around as Angel Hernandez calls out that day's numbers. If their number is called, they are taken by bus to the U.S. The number of people varies daily. Every morning, U.S. Customs and Border Protection tells Mexican officials how many asylum seekers it's accepting. It's a process called metering. The Mexican officials then relay that number to Hernandez. Today, it's just 40. The list now has more than 5,000 people. Those at the end will likely wait several months for their numbers to be called.
HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
GREEN: "That's all for today until tomorrow," Hernandez yells out. Hernandez is a migrant himself, a former military officer in Honduras also waiting his turn to apply for asylum. It's been a month already. He took over from another asylum seeker who already entered. And when Hernandez leaves, another migrant will take his place. There's an unofficial vote among the asylum seekers to decide who will run the list.
HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
GREEN: Hernandez says he and the other volunteers want to make sure the asylum process stays the same and is orderly. The origin story of the list is murky. It was already in place in May when a previous caravan of Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana. U.S. officials said they didn't have capacity to process all of them for asylum. And they needed to wait, thus the list. And these lists - they're happening all across the border, including in Texas and Arizona. Brian Griffey of Amnesty International says they're a bad idea.
BRIAN GRIFFEY: U.S. and Mexican authorities have clearly conspired to create both the illegal asylum waitlists and these lines of thousands of people.
GREEN: Meanwhile, the thousands of migrants from the most recent caravans are weeks, if not months, away from having their numbers called. So they're organizing where they can.
ULISES ORTIZ: (Speaking Spanish).
GREEN: Ulises Ortiz is on a bullhorn at El Barretal shelter. It's a former concert hall that's now home to around 2,500 migrants from the caravans. He's coordinating dozens of people to move a massive tarp that will protect the migrants' tents. It's already starting to rain. And the downpour is not far off. Ortiz says he was a prosecutor working on human rights issues in Honduras. He joined the caravan and is now part of a group of volunteers that helps direct resources.
ORTIZ: (Speaking Spanish).
GREEN: He says neither the Mexican president nor public officials really understand what the migrants need because they don't live here. In another area of the shelter, Honduran Jesus Vaso walks around in an orange vest. He's with a friend. They've just come back from cleaning the bathrooms.
JESUS VASO: (Speaking Spanish).
GREEN: He says they volunteer because they want to show the world a good image of the caravan. And, he adds, it keeps him occupied and helps him destress. It allows him to forget, just sometimes, how far he's traveled and how long he has to wait. For NPR News, I'm Emily Green in Tijuana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.