Boasting a large floating migrant population is no big news for the people of border cities Tijuana and Mexicali.
Over the years, shanty towns have arisen and disappeared ever since the infamous “Cartolandia” in the 1970s, a “town” built out of cardboard boxes by migrants — either deported from or on their way to the United States — right on the bed of the Tijuana River.
“Cartolandia” is a word drafted by Tijuanans meaning cardboard or cartón, and “landia” or land, a bad joke and parody for Disneyland.
But for those who thought the days of “Cartolandia” were gone, a new reality has arisen with the constant flow of Haitian refugees who are seeking either charitable or political refuge in the United States.
According to a count by the National Immigration Institute, (INM) as of Oct. 4 there were 3,521 Haitian migrants in the two cities. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offices can only process at best 100 migrants a day, yet around 300 are arriving on a daily basis and as they apply, the waiting line only gets longer.
Northern Border College (Colef) political legislation researcher Alejandra Castañeda says that it was very complicated to have the United States grant asylum to all applicants given the fact that “the migrants want to get to the U.S. to benefit from the Temporary Protection Status that was started in 2010 but concluded last Sept. 22. Although applications continue to be admitted, we don’t know when they will stop accepting them.”
There are refugees from other nations, but for now the bulk are of Haitian origin.
Most of the arrivals come through a long and weary route, as some flee from poverty stricken Haiti to Brazil, or just about any South or Central American nation, to start their trek north to Tijuana and Mexicali. But there are migrants from all different nationalities, many of them claiming to be African.
When they get to Mexico the National Immigration Institute gives them a visa to cross the nation without harassment from officials. Once at the border, they can start their visa process.
But the real problem is for Tijuana and Mexicali, where the shanty towns have sprouted again with local authorities offering merely transitory solutions, because in the immediate future these new arrivals are creating a health problem.
Tijuana Archbishop Francisco Moreno said that the Catholic Church is considering opening up shelters in some 100 parishes, but one thing is housing and something else is food and health facilities, for which the parishes are not prepared for.
Adding woe to anguish, Haiti has been hit recently by hurricane Mathew which may mean that the number of Haitian migrants following the long route of South and Central America will increase.
Another problem, says National Immigration Institute INM) delegate in Baja, Rodulfo Figueroa, is that the migrants are not applying for humanitarian protection from the Mexican government.
Also many local businessmen in the maquiladora in-bond manufacturing industry have said that they could hire a few thousand of the migrants if they get a work permit from the National Immigration Institute, but INM delegate Figueroa says that “up until today we have not received a single request from a Haitian” and emphasized that work permits would be granted. “Not even the companies have had applications, but several of them have shown interest in hiring.”
There is no doubt that the goal of these migrants is reaching the United States, but in the meantime the shanty towns in the streets of Tijuana keep growing with a new French speaking population that adds to the multi-cultural poverty mosaic Tijuana had stopped being.
A new version of “Cartolandia” has arisen now with tents threatening to unwillingly become Mexico’s Little Haiti because, think about it, if refused entry to the United States, these people have no land to return to.