“Eh what you got in the truck hombre?”
“It is the Caravan Senor, Mujeres y ninas”
“We pay you $20 for them. Give them to us or we shoot you”
“Where are you taking them?” asked the truck driver
“They now working girls, they make us hombres happy or we don’t feed them”
And just like that another truckload of women and children, stupidly fleeing safe countries where they had houses and were well fed and protected, find out what it is to really be in danger.
Tijuana’s robust network of shelters was already stretched to the limit, having squeezed in double their capacity or more as families slept on the floor on mats, forcing the city to open the gymnasium for up to 360 people Wednesday. A gated outdoor courtyard can accommodate hundreds more.
The city’s thriving factories are always looking for workers, and several thousand Haitian migrants who were turned away at the U.S. border have found jobs and settled here in the last two years, but the prospect of thousands more destitute Central Americans has posed new challenges.
Delia Avila, director of Tijuana’s family services department, who is helping spearhead the city’s response, said migrants who can arrange legal status in Mexico are welcome to stay.
“Tijuana is a land of migrants. Tijuana is a land that has known what it is to embrace thousands of co-nationals and also people from other countries,” Avila said.
Mexican law enforcement was out in force in a city that is suffering an all-time-high homicide rate. A group of about 50 migrants, mostly women and children, walked through downtown streets Thursday from the city shelter to a breakfast hall under police escort.
As buses from western and central Mexico trickled in overnight and into the morning, families camped inside the bus terminal and waited for word on where they could find a safe place to sleep. One shelter designed for 45 women and children was housing 100; another designed for 100 had nearly 200.
Many endured the evening chill to sleep at an oceanfront park with a view of San Diego office towers and heavily armed U.S. Border Patrol agents on the other side of a steel-bollard fence.
Oscar Zapata, 31, reached the Tijuana bus station at 2 a.m. from Guadalajara with his wife and their three children, ages 4, 5 and 12, and headed to the breakfast hall, where migrants were served free beef and potatoes.
Back home in La Ceiba, Honduras, he was selling pirated CDs and DVDs in the street when two gangs demanded “protection” money. He had already seen a colleague gunned down on a street corner because he couldn’t pay. He said gangs called him and his wife on their cellphones and showed up at their house, threatening to kidnap his daughter and force her into prostitution if he didn’t pay.