What is happening in Tijuana?
Local relief organizations became overwhelmed when more than 7,000 Central Americans made the grueling journey to the Tijuana border in a series of organized caravans throughout November and early December. The refugees arrived with hopes of claiming asylum — according to camp manager Nate Dennison, many were misled into thinking the process of entering the United States would be streamlined.
“Organizers made it seem like they would be able to cross with no problem,” Dennison said. “Many seemed surprised when they were turned away and forced to wait months for their papers to be processed.” Only 40 to 100 people are being processed by immigration officials each day.
When the caravans first reached the border, local officials were completely unprepared and had to pack more than 6,000 refugees into the Benito Juarez sports complex. After torrential rains in early December damaging the location, the facility was dissolved in and refugees were dispersed between one of 16 refugee shelters in the Tijuana area.
Most recently, WCK has focused its efforts in Tijuana, setting up a headquarters and sending two to three west coast chefs to oversee their work at the border camps. With no end to the flow of asylum-seekers in sight, the initiative aims to empower refugees to create a self-sustaining food-based relief effort, establish a formal food service certification program, and continue providing for those who need it most.
“Our goal is to integrate [the refugees] into the food-making process,” said WCK project manager Sam Bloch. “Right now, we’re attempting to hire shuttles to transport them from the camps to the kitchen. This way, we can teach them how to properly run and organize the kitchen, creating a sustainable food service moving forward.”
Upon arrival, children from every section of the camp rush to the truck to unload and begin setting up. There is no need for instruction, as many refugees have been helping every day for several weeks. With little else to keep them occupied, children wait with excitement to serve the day’s lunch and dinner. After putting on gloves, masks, and aprons, they begin as several World Central Kitchen volunteers oversee the process.
Who are the major players in the crisis?
There are four major players involved in the U.S.–Mexico border crisis: the Mexican government, the United States government, local Tijuana and San Diego residents, and non-profit organizations providing aid.
The Mexican government immediately pledged their support, providing food, water, shelter, and job facilitation to refugees in Tijuana. Local churches and non-profit organizations also stepped in to assist with food and shelter. It was estimated that the city was spending about $27,119 every day on services and supplies during the month of November, according to Tijuana's Government Secretary Leopoldo Guerrero.
Local San Diego and Tijuana residents are split into two groups: those who oppose the refugee presence and those who feel it is their duty to help. “The sentiment in the local community is very negative,” local Tijuana volunteer Beatrix Berger said. “Mexicans always support other Mexicans illegally crossing the border. They used to say ‘no human being is illegal,’ — but now they say the Central Americans are illegally here.”
Tijuana’s collegiate community also views the refugee presence as an opportunity to help those in need. “I don’t care if they are from down South; I’m going to help them either way,” said student and volunteer Oscar Montana, who has been volunteering with World Central Kitchen three times a week since mid-December through a collegiate volunteer program. “It doesn’t matter why they came here, or what I think, they need to eat.”