In December we shared the under-reported news about Tijuana’s new shelter and services center for migrants who have passed their credible-fear interviews and been sent back to Mexico to await their trial dates in the U.S., generally months away and likely longer for some.
Two new “Integration Centers” are now up and running near the border. Today I was able to visit the public areas of the center in Tijuana. The neighborhood, El Aguila, is several miles from the border and quite isolated. It is surrounded by mid-scale factories, many manufacturing plastics and other products with high environmental impact, some relocated from the U.S. where environmental standards are higher and more likely to be enforced.
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The administrator at the center who greeted me – but did not allow me past the entry area – emphasized that this is not a shelter but an “integration center,” attending to all the migrants’ needs. Representatives of several government agencies are on-site, helping migrants get registered to work legally – including the provision of the equivalent of social-security numbers, Tax IDs, and residence permits, all requiring the presentation of home-country identification documents.
Other officials at the shelter connect migrants with jobs in area factories.
The isolation of the area is clear – aside from local factories, there is little for shelter residents to find on the streets: no shops, no community centers. There is only the Integration Center. And though the shelter is up and running, with some number of migrants in residence, none are visible in the public areas of the center. None are visible on the center’s grounds, where final stages of construction continue and tight security – more professional than on display at other Tijuana businesses and institutions – is provided by the CommCor company.
The staff in the reception area is friendly if clearly scripted in their response to unexpected visitors. Fluent English speakers are on tap, and politely collect information and suggest formal channels for requesting information.
The collecting of documents, issuing of IDs, funneling to area factories, and apparent control of residents’ movements raise vital questions:
– Are shelter residents forced to work? Are they given shelter for humanitarian reasons, or is this a work camp?
– Who benefits? Which agencies and companies hold formal relationships with employers benefitting from the near-captive labor?
– How free are the residents of these shelters to move about, to stay or to go, to choose how and where to spend their time?
More to follow on this story.