Migrants Wait In Mexicali
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Also, during that border trip, President Trump vowed to send asylum seekers picked up by immigrant agents back to Mexico. And in a very real way, the administration already has begun doing exactly that. From member station KJZZ's Fronteras Desk, Michel Marizco reports from Calexico, Calif.
MICHEL MARIZCO, BYLINE: Across the border from the tiny California town that Trump visited Friday to inspect 2 1/2 miles of gleaming new border fence, dozens of people gather in an abandoned motel, a makeshift home here in Mexicali where they wait to be summoned by uniformed officials. Maria Reyes scrubs an old pair of tennis shoes until they gleam in the detergent-laden water. The Honduran mother of four says she fled her native country to ask the U.S. for asylum.
MARIA REYES: (Speaking Spanish).
MARIZCO: She said she wasn't threatened in Honduras, but wants a better life for her children as they grow. And she doesn't want them involved in trouble at home, so she brought them here.
REYES: (Speaking Spanish).
MARIZCO: Reyes arrived two weeks ago and was given a number to wait here in Mexico before she can sit for an asylum interview. If she passes that, she wants to head to Texas, where she has family. She's one type of immigrant currently gathering in Mexicali. Sairi Lemus is another - Guatemalan, mother of three. We speak in the back storeroom of Cobina, the shelter made in the motel where Central Americans wait, even as more arrive. She was targeted by blackmailers in Guatemala and ignored them the first time.
SAIRI LEMUS: (Speaking Spanish).
MARIZCO: On December 23, they returned, and this time, threatened her three children. So she left, traversed Mexico, waited six weeks for an interview and now she has a court hearing with a judge in San Ysidro, Calif., May 8. But to get to that step, she and her family must remain in Mexico. In fact, that's what the new U.S. government policy is called - Remain in Mexico - and it's been quietly expanding along the border, only recently starting here in Mexicali. Yolanda Brown is with the small nonprofit aid group Border Kindness.
YOLANDA BROWN: Now, she was sent back over here, where she would normally be waiting for all her court hearings in the States. They sent her back over here.
MARIZCO: The group has been helping to furnish the Cobina shelter with needed supplies for families. Just across the border, U.S. President Trump said even more migrants must be sent to Mexico.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We don't have room. That means you can't take them. You don't understand it. I don't think anyone's ever expressed it like that, but I'm expressing it like that. When it's full, it's full.
MARIZCO: Border Kindness founder Kelly Overton expresses the same sentiment about Mexicali.
KELLY OVERTON: There's a bottleneck that's going to happen at the border. And again, this was kind of designed for a reason, you know? The expense and the burden of care on people is now outside of the United States.
MARIZCO: Homeland Security has warned that the number of migrants will only increase as spring turns to summer, and it appears asylum seekers like Lemus and Reyes will be waiting in growing numbers south of the border. In Calexico, Calif., I'm Michel Marizco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.