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Legalization For All network’s delegation to the US Mexico border in Tijuana

By Montana Hirsch

Legalization For All delegation at Casa de Luz

Tijuana, Mexico – On April 2, a group of activists from the Legalization For All network crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to witness the effects of U.S. border militarization. The group met with Robert Vivar, binational coordinator at VÍA Internacional, and Aída Amador, coordinator of VÍA Migrante. They visited the Unified U.S. Deported Veterans Office, the border wall at Friendship Park on the Tijuana side, and the Casa de Luz LGBTQ+ immigrant collective house.

Crossing from the U.S. into Tijuana was quick and easy with no lines – the group did not even need to present their passports, which showed just how easy it is for many U.S. citizens to be able to cross into Mexico without question.

Once in Tijuana, the group stopped at the Unified U.S. Deported Veteran Resource Center, where they heard from Robert Vivar about the work they do. After serving in the U.S. military, immigrant veterans can lose their documentation due to criminal convictions and are then deported, left with PTSD from their service and separated from their homes and families in the U.S. The office was created to welcome these veterans, offering services such as help with housing, legal relief and reintegration into society after being deported.

Vivar himself was a veteran who was deported twice and was finally granted reentry into the U.S. after an almost 20-year battle. He finally won his case before the California Supreme Court. Vivar was a green card holder who had moved to the U.S. at age six. He told the group that after he was deported to Tijuana, he would come to Friendship Park and “it was too painful” to look out across the border to the San Diego side, as California was his home. After his own experience as a deported veteran, he began to advocate for other U.S. veterans who had been deported, understanding firsthand how cruel it is for the U.S. to send immigrants to fight and possibly die to serve the U.S. only to later get deported.

The group then drove to Friendship Park, a binational park located close to the San Ysidro Port of entry border crossing. The park became a meeting place for separated families to meet and even be able to reach through the wall and touch each other across the U.S.-Mexico border. The part of the park on the U.S. side was closed under Trump and remains closed under Biden, so there is no longer a way for families to meet there despite strong organizing efforts to reopen the park in San Diego.

As the delegation members made their way to Friendship Park in a van, Vivar gave the group a lesson about the current situation at the Tijuana border as the border wall came into view. Vivar explained to the group that asylum seekers are given much misinformation about how to apply for asylum, and that they are told they can just go to the border and apply. In reality, an appointment is needed, and appointments are difficult to get. Because of this misinformation, many immigrants jump the first wall and think they can give themselves up to the U.S. Border Patrol.

Instead, the Border Patrol leaves them between the two border walls that run parallel to one another, for hours or even days. Some of the people stuck between the two walls have been infants. This torture-on-display tactic is used to discourage immigrants from crossing. Vivar talked about how VÍA Migrante and others bring food and water to those who are stuck between the walls, since any pleas for help to Border Patrol go ignored. Along the drive, the group was able to see some of the individuals and families stuck between the two walls and was struck by this inhumane practice that happens often in the area.

At Friendship Park, the group heard more from Vivar about the wall and the history of the park, which is situated right on a beach. During the tour, Vivar asked the group if they knew why much of the wall was built to be 30 feet tall, which happened under Trump but is expanding today, as there are still plans for the shorter areas of the wall to be built up to this height under Biden. Vivar explained that 30 feet is a calculated critical height at which if a person falls from, they would be unlikely to make it to the ground alive or without permanently disabling injuries. On top of this, along the base of the wall lies large amounts of razor wire, in exactly the spot where someone climbing the wall would land. The situation is deadly.

There was quite a strong contrast at the park. The wall, which is a physical manifestation of oppression lined with sharp razor wire, was painted in bright colors and displayed beautiful and inspiring messages and images. Families and children could be seen enjoying the sunny day, playing at the beach, as the wall stretched out into the ocean. A Border Patrol vehicle zoomed by in between the two parallel walls. Some members of the group saw a person attempt to scale the wall and cross but climb back down as Border Patrol approached.

The wall’s extension into the ocean itself does not deter people from trying to swim across, but many drown or have to turn back. Vivar told the delegation members that after a large group once tried to cross through the water and some made it across, razor wire was added to the section of the wall in the water as well, creating an even deadlier situation for those trying to cross this way.

The next stop for the delegates was visiting Casa de Luz, an LGBTQ+ collective that houses immigrants and their families in a communal living space with a focus on food security. The group then went to Caza de Luz itself and met with Aída Amador from VÍA Internacional and Caza de Luz Founder Irving Mondragón for a tour. Mondragòn had started a kitchen program at the border, cooking healthy meals and providing basic needs to asylum-seekers at El Chaparral camp, a camp at the border. He then founded Caza de Luz, which they call a “collective,” as the word “shelter” has a negative stigma. The house was far from negative – it was full of color and light, kids played on the outdoor patio and the inside space was full of brightly colored furniture, cheerful artwork, books and trinkets. Caza de Luz is unique in that they welcome and embrace the LGBTQ+ community, which is not always the case in many shelters, and they also do not have a time limit on how long individuals and families are able to stay with them.

The group got to see beauty in the work that Caza de Luz does at the border, but was left as well with the heaviness of what they witnessed at the oppressive and grossly inhumane border wall. It is clear that the U.S. would rather see individuals and families who are fleeing desperate situations die at the hands of this oppression than cross the border in hope of a better life. The fortification and expansion of border militarization certainly did not end under Trump, but continues today and must be stopped.

Friendship Park, Tijuana

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