When five thousand Central Americans “caravanning” towards the United States arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, which combines its two million people with San Diego for a metropolitan area of over five million people, it seems every television camera in the civilized world arrived to show us the ongoing “invasion.”
Describing what the cameras saw were legions of reporters, mostly men, some of whom actually spoke Spanish. I watched them all, while changing channels profusely during those hectic days. To the “man,” they missed a very important fact: the main encampment of Central American “refugees” was not just in Tijuana; it was less than 50 feet from the U.S.A.
Whenever one of those international cameras faced north, I could see something I see almost daily: the traffic on the Rosarito/Ensenada National Highway 1 that turns from its ocean fronting at Playas de Tijuana (Tijuana Beaches) inland to the city with its two border crossings into the United States. As I live just south of Tijuana, Highway 1 is my 18-kilometer drive back to San Diego.
The now empty camp (the refugees have been moved several miles away to better circumstances) is trash-covered. That is what I see from my car. The distance between the former camp and the U.S. border is exactly 42 feet. Four 8-foot wide traffic lanes, two chain link fences and a 15-foot high barrier built by the U.S. several years ago to replace the Clinton era surplus aircraft landing steel panels welded together that was the presidential-built fencing on the border for over a dozen years.
On Nov. 28, during a heavy downpour, I drove by the camp for the first time. Small dome tents covered the entire Benito Juarez Soccer Park. There were thousands of men, women and children that had walked and rode over 2,000 kilometers from Honduras and Guatemala. I drove by again on Dec. 2, but the tents and people vanished.
The border crisis with televised tear gas billowing among men, women and children was for all intents and purposes over. Or, was just out of sight?
Most television reports concentrated on the caravan, its people and the border kerfuffle that ended in a cloud of tear gas. That event was not the only thing going on, especially on the Mexican front.
What was Mexico to do? Act like a brutal dictatorship and tear gas and Billy club the refugees, shoot and kill them as unlawful people on Mexican territory? No.
What was the U.S. to do? Act like a brutal dictatorship and tear gas and Billy club the refugees, shoot and kill them as unlawful people on American territory? No.
Yes, both countries developed ad hoc forces to deal with refugees that tried to illegally cross the border. Both built up physical barriers — the U.S. laid concertina barbed wire on top of all the fencing along the border between Tijuana and San Diego and shut several normal crossing lanes through the port of entry that handles an average of 125,000 legal border crossers-a-day.
The Mexicans brought more federal police – no troops – to the border along with ten foot tall steel barriers with which they lined up at potential crossing points that weren’t fenced.
Luckily, the only mob action that occurred was on Nov. 25, when a few hundred of the thousands tried massively running into the U.S.
They were held off by uniformed Customs and Border Protection officers backed up by California Highway Patrol officers that shut down one of the busiest Interstate highways (I-5) in the country and the busiest border crossing in the world. No one was seriously injured. Not a single Trump-ordered soldier or Marine was on the border.
Meanwhile, intelligent business people of Tijuana, the world’s capital of flat screen television manufacturing and center of medical device manufacturing, and the Mexican government organized something no one ever expected to see.
The Mexican industrial leadership of Tijuana set up human resource staffing to interview Central American refugees for over 5,000 empty jobs in the gigantic Tijuana industrial community. They interviewed and hired on the spot. The hired refugee then walks his paperwork over to a Mexican immigration table for a renewable “humanitarian work permit” that is good for a year-at-a-time, or for a permanent residential visa, if qualified. Others volunteered to return to their home countries.
Some have registered to get into the proverbial “line” U.S. authorities have created. From that list, some 100 people a day are interviewed to start the asylum process.
As I drive by the trash-covered former refugee camp, I thank the Mexican government, American border personnel and bright people among them who ignored hysterical Washingtonians and a few local Mexicans who demonstrated against the refugees when they arrived.
The governments quickly mobilized to defuse what could have been a serious episode resulting in injury and death that would certainly injure the U.S.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby & U.S. Foreign Policy" and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade." He can be reached at email@example.com.