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Central American Migrants Arrive In Tijuana With Uncertain Future


Migrants arriving in Tijuana, Mexico, now face a heavily reinforced U.S. border. And they also face a slower process for seeking asylum. Reporter James Fredrick has been following the migrant caravan as it's moved across Mexico. He says many migrants are now trying to figure out what to do next.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Twenty-six-year-old Jesica Flores has traveled nearly 3,000 miles from Honduras with her 5-year-old daughter, Dana, for this sight - the United States. But she can only see it through the 20-foot-tall metal border fence.

JESICA FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: "It's not so easy," she says, "and I won't jump over the border with my daughter." But Jesica hasn't given up.

FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: "We have faith that God will help us get asylum," she says. Like many in the Central American migrant caravan, Flores says she can't go back to Honduras. A violent ex-boyfriend who threatened her life is waiting there.

FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: Right now, she's in a sports complex-turned-shelter set up by the city government of Tijuana. With her friend Alberto, who would not give his last name because he fears retribution from gangs, the two wonder how long they may be waiting to apply for asylum in the U.S.

FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

ALBERTO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: Flores says she heard it could take up to a month or two. Alberto heard it could take up to a year. "My God," Flores says, "I didn't know it could be so long." Here in Tijuana, requesting asylum isn't as easy as just walking up to the border. With so many people showing up here to request asylum, migrants themselves have put together a first come, first serve list. With the new arrivals in the caravan, more than 3,000 people are now waiting their turn, and thousands more are on their way. U.S. authorities process as many as 100 but as few as 30 people here per day. That is why Flores and Alberto can't figure out how long they'll be waiting.

The big question now is how long aid can support the thousands of migrants. Tijuana's mayor has asked the federal government for about $5 million to house and feed the caravan for three months. And migrants are getting another option - work. The state government has put up a job fair a few blocks from the shelter and brought caravan members to check it out. The state labor secretary, Francisco Iribe Paniagua, says there are thousands of job openings in the state.


FREDRICK: He says they're looking for carpenters, welders, electricians, security guards, cooks, waiters, cashiers and on and on. For migrants that apply for a job, they can get a one-year humanitarian visa to work here legally. Iribe hopes giving migrants the opportunity to earn a paycheck in Mexico will relieve some strain on the city's overflowing migrant shelters. On the first day of the job fair, 56 members of the caravan filled out applications for jobs and a visa. Honduran Josue Caceres came here so he could get a visa to work legally.

JOSUE CACERES: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: "I'm planning to stay here and work for a while or until Donald Trump leaves office," he says, only half joking. Since he doesn't plan to request asylum in the U.S., he's hoping a post-Trump America will welcome a hard worker like him, but Tijuana will be his home in the meantime. Like the rest of the caravan, he says he can't go home, but he can't get any further north either. For NPR News, I'm James Fredrick in Tijuana, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEN SOLLEE'S "THE BIG OCEAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.