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World

Mexico Increases Security Presence At U.S. Border Near Tijuana

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Mexico has put more police on the streets in Tijuana, where thousands of Central Americans are waiting for their chance to cross the border to the U.S. This comes a day after U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego fired tear gas at migrants who were trying to cross. The patrol says some migrants were throwing rocks. And in a moment, we'll hear more about that decision to use tear gas.

First we go to reporter James Fredrick in Tijuana. And, James, you've been there for a couple days now. What is the atmosphere like at this point?

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Well, it definitely feels and looks different today than it did yesterday. The first thing I noticed pulling up here is there's a lot more police around this government-run shelter here in Tijuana. So, I mean, there's basically a one-block radius where there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Mexican federal police and some military here. They won't say exactly what they're doing here, but it's pretty clear that they want to have security right here, right outside the shelter so another march cannot start. And then talking with migrants, I mean, they are really thrown off after yesterday's events.

CORNISH: Can you tell us more about that? What are you hearing from them?

FREDRICK: People are scared and worried after yesterday's events. I think it throws them even more into limbo than they were before yesterday's events. I spoke to this Honduran woman, Elva, inside the shelter today.

ELVA: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: So what Elva is saying there is that, you know, after yesterday's events, she just doesn't know if she can continue, that, you know, it almost makes her feel like she should go home. She's very scared now, and she really has the feeling after yesterday's events that there's no way President Trump is going to let them into their country. And so she's really stuck and doesn't know what to do next.

CORNISH: I mean, what choices do they have? Have people talked about any alternatives?

FREDRICK: Well, the first thing is they can request asylum, and that's what a lot of them are doing. But that's not so easy in Tijuana as just walking up to the border and saying you want to request asylum. Since so many asylum-seekers have arrived here at the border, there is a list you have to put your name on. The current waiting time on that list is more than a month. And that was for people who arrived before the caravan. So it's much longer now.

Talking to other people in the caravan, you know, other options are to be smuggled across the border, to find a more remote area they might go into. If they feel like there's no legal way for them to get in, they see that as an option. And then the other option is return home. But as we know, lots of these people are facing very serious, real threats of violence and would put themselves back into very dangerous situations going home.

CORNISH: In the meantime, President Trump has tweeted that unless Mexico deports the migrants, the U.S. will, quote, "close the border permanently." What sort of reaction is that getting in Mexico?

FREDRICK: Well, the first thing is that it's really hard for migrants to understand what's going on. Things are constantly changing. There's not great access to information. They get most of their information just word-of-mouth. So it's hard for them to make a decision based on, you know, currently - your constantly changing conditions.

You know, the other big issue is that Mexico's government is changing this Saturday. And so there's - I'm really getting the impression right now that the current administration which is leaving just has no incentive to make any big decisions, have - make any big actions on behalf of the migrants. And so really we're just waiting for a new government in Mexico to see what decision they make.

CORNISH: That's James Fredrick reporting from Tijuana, Mexico. Thank you.

FREDRICK: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.