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Cities Along Mexico's Northern Border Struggle With Influx of Migrants


Let's head now to Mexico's northern border and look at another aspect of this U.S.-Mexico deal. The city of Tijuana is like a lot of Mexican cities in that it is struggling to house and care for Central American migrants forced to stay in Mexico as their asylum claims in the U.S. are being processed. That program that keeps migrants in Mexico is now set to expand as part of this new agreement. NPR's Carrie Kahn was just in Tijuana. She joins us now from the other side of the border in San Diego. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good afternoon.

KELLY: Hi. So this so-called Remain in Mexico program which we've been talking about for a while - I said it's going to change. How so?

KAHN: The U.S. government wants to send more U.S. asylum-seekers back to Mexico to wait out their court procedures. And it began in December, but the U.S. government wants to send a lot more people back. And so that's the expansion that we're talking about.

KELLY: So we're talking same program, more numbers.

KAHN: Mexico's foreign minister was directly asked, how can you take in more numbers? What are we talking about, 20,000, 30,000? He sort of avoided the question and said, our southern border enforcement and our buildup of troops along the southern border with Guatemala is really going to help stem the numbers that are coming to the border, so this might be a moot point in general; we might not have to take back as many people. But that's a big grasp, and we'll have to see how quickly they can bring the troops down to the border and whether they can make a difference.

KELLY: I mentioned you've just been in Tijuana, Carrie. I mean, what is the impact there of this policy?

KAHN: There have always been migrants in Tijuana. This has always been a throughway and a big crossing point for migrants. So this is nothing new for the city. The number of people that are staying now and not just going through - that is new. But if you look at the Remain in Mexico program, since December, Mexico has sent back about almost 11,000 U.S. asylum-seeking migrants. Not all of those have gone to Tijuana, and Tijuana is a city of - about 1.5 million people, so it's not that huge of an impact.

The problem is that they all stay congregated along the border region, which is not a very safe part of town. And there are no resources from the federal government there to help them out, so nonprofits and church groups and religious organizations are the ones that are picking up the slack. And it's been a difficult situation for those groups and that area around the border.

KELLY: I wonder; is this sparking tension between cities and their leaders, mayors and so forth and the federal government in Mexico City?

KAHN: Definitely. They've been asking for more resources since we've seen these large migrant caravans come up to the border. And they've been demanding more resources, and it has created tensions between the states and the federal government.

KELLY: What about for the migrants themselves? What have you been able to observe through your reporting in terms of the impact on them of staying longer in Mexico under this program?

KAHN: It's a difficult situation because they don't have relatives here. They don't have a support system here. The government has not been able to provide jobs and stable areas to stay in. And what's happening is that this is not where they want to stay. They want to go to the United States - don't feel safe in Tijuana. They don't feel safe in border cities along Mexico. And their ultimate goal is to make it to the U.S.

KELLY: NPR's Carrie Kahn - thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.