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TBI Accompanies Members of the Migrant Caravan in Tijuana

Thursday, December 20, 2018TOPICS: AlumniChangemakerFaculty and StaffFieldworkGlobal ImpactUS-Mexico BorderHuman Rights and Security

begin quote"They share an intimacy with us, rooted in U.S. interventions in the region, the failure to fully recognize previous generations of refugees, and a cycle of deportation and dependence."

Since the arrival of roughly six thousand Central American asylum seekrs in Tijuana two weeks ago, a humanitarian crisis has unfolded on our doorstep, and the University of San Diego (USD) community has responded with courage, compassion, and creativity. For its part, the Kroc School's Trans-Border Institute (TBI) has been actively accompanying particular families and subgroups within the caravan as they consider their rights and legal options. Professor of Practice and TBI Director Ev Meade, Master of Arts in Peace and Justice (MAPJ) student Christian Burgos, and MAPJ alum Blake Harper are spearheading an effort to document their experiences in order to best address their human needs and defend their human rights, both in Tijuana and if and when they enter the United States. Along with many student volunteers, we have been visiting and interviewing members of the caravan since their arrival, bringing them specific items that they need, and connecting them with resources.

The TBI team has not been taking or posting many photos from our work in Tijuana. It just feels invasive, and some of the asylum seekers fear reprisal if their pictures are posted alongside specific claims of persecution. There’s a constant media and law enforcement presence at the main shelter, and migrants feel that they are constantly surveilled and photographed. Most of the Nicaraguans, in particular, feel this way. Their trauma is fresh, and we spoke to them just as they arrived in Tijuana, ten days behind the rest of the caravan. “Nicanorth,” pictured above, wanted the exposure and he performed for us. (Check out his YouTube channel here).

The TBI team has interviewed most of the Nicaraguan contingent, the first step in an asylum screening process. We were connected by way of our colleagues at Agencia Migrante (a USD-kickstarted project and previous winner of the Social Innovation Challenge to connect the deported with employers in Tijuana), and a group of Nicaraguan exiles coordinated by folks at UC Berkley who have been volunteering at El Barretal (the migrant shelter). Over several hours and a good meal, they shared stories, tears, and songs from Nicaragua. Their candor and fellowship stood out in the middle of a very difficult situation.

Their claims are harrowing. All of them relate directly to the government repression of the protest movement that exploded late last spring. If you’ve seen the reports or the videos of police assassinating protestors in the light of day, or on the widening of the repression to include anyone suspected of sympathizing with the protestors, these are the people at the other end of the stick. We spoke to local government officials who have been detained and tortured and whose names have appeared on death lists as “enemies of the people” for declaring solidarity strikes, treating wounded protestors, or refusing to participate in arbitrary arrests and torture. We spoke with others who have been caught in the crossfire between radical protesters and police, who have imposed rival curfews and other demands on a block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis across the country. (Avoiding specifics to protect the individuals involved).

TBI is helping to assemble a legal team to represent this group as efficiently and effectively as possible. There will be opportunities for pooling research, strategy, and other efforts on their behalf. In addition to lawyers, we’re going to need researchers, translators, and other volunteers.

The ethical dimensions of the Nicaraguans’ involvement in the caravan are thorny and complex. On the one hand, as the smallest group, they feel a bit marginalized. They also think that the crisis in their country is more acute than in the rest of Central America. Indeed, the crisis is much more recent in Nicaragua — until earlier this year a place far more peaceful than any of the North Triangle countries. And it’s simpler in the sense that the main culprit is the government, and many of the acts of violence it has perpetrated have been captured on video had reported across the globe. On the other hand, prioritizing their claims would merely validate the broader effort to caricature the other countries in the region and criminalize the victims of gang violence (and elide U.S. responsibility for its origins).

Moreover, the Nicaraguans share the most common complicating factor in making asylum claims — like the Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans many of them have been deported from the United States on previous occasions (excluding them from eligibility for many forms of relief). In other words, they share an intimacy with us, rooted in the history of U.S. interventions in the region, the failure to fully recognize the first generation of refugees from the civil wars of the 1980s, and a negative spiral of deportation and dependence over the last 20 years. The caravan is but the latest manifestation of a deeply intertwined relationship. 

We agree with those who want to push the public discussion to acknowledge this history and build a different relationship for the future. And this discussion seems, finally, to be advancing. Talk of a “Marshall Plan” for Central America in Mexico City and Washington, D.C., serious criminal justice reform in the U.S., and the emergence of new and powerful transnational social movements (like the one that organized the caravan) show that change is possible. 

However, we can’t afford to lose track of the human beings stuck in the middle of the present quagmire. We can help defend their human rights and address their human needs at the same time we that address the larger structural issues. Indeed, the ability to stay connected to individuals in what amounts to a refugee camp — to share information, answer questions, make claims, address needs etc. — is unprecedented. This kind of connectivity is not possible with people in immigration detention in the United States, or in other scenarios of confinement. If you add our proximity to Tijuana to this connectivity, there would seem to be little excuse for not getting involved.

The situation remains precarious. One night someone launched a tear gas canister into El Barretal, prompting a mini-panic and evacuation of the shelter. The police denied responsibility and treated it as a criminal act. (There’s a reason to be suspicious. The place is surrounded by riot police, soldiers and others who have access to this kind of weapon, day and night, and you can’t exactly buy them in the local pharmacy). Reporters scrambled to confirm the incident, but by morning it wasn’t even news. The murder of two Honduran boys near the other main shelter stole the headlines.

How can I get involved?

Write to us at to inquire about volunteer and donation opportunities. As soon as we coordinate with our colleagues in the exile community, we will help to launch a specific fundraising campaign for the Nicaraguan contingent. Stay tuned.


Ev Meade
619 260-4161

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies


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