Migrants on the border

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 22nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a snapshot of the border.

Just since October, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agents have apprehended 460,000 individuals at the southern border. While that number may sound like a lot, it’s actually historically low. Twenty years ago, for example, border agents apprehended a million and-a-half at the border.

REICHARD: What’s different is the number of families coming to the border. Those numbers are up—dramatically. In the first half of fiscal year 2019, a quarter-million. That’s already twice as many families than in the previous year.

EICHER: And this is not what America’s ports of entry were designed to do. Overcrowding and confusion reigns. That’s what prompted President Trump back in February to declare a national emergency.

WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports from Tijuana.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The San Diego border fence stretches 46 miles along the U.S. Mexico border. It ends here at the Pacific Ocean where the fence is 15 feet tall.

It’s made of thick, metal poles 6 inches apart. On the U.S. side, an additional chain link fence closes the gaps between the metal bars. It stretches 30 feet out into the ocean. Curls of wire run along the top.

Despite the barrier, this is a popular family beach in Tijuana. Couples sit under umbrellas, children dig in the sand, and vendors sell churros and donuts.

AUDIO: [Sound of talking to Oscar Munoz and family]

It’s also a popular gathering place for recently arrived migrants like Oscar Munoz. Munoz and his family sit, resting on a staircase leading down to the beach.

Munoz is short with brown-leathered skin and walks with a cane. A local missionary translates for him.

MUNOZ: Hoy, hoy. Literally today. Today is first day in Tijuana.

Munoz left Honduras two months ago along with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and 1-year-old grandson. They travelled in a caravan with more than 2-thousand people. Munoz had seen a commercial on TV advertising the caravan. The ad said get out while you can.

At one point, the Munoz family rode on top of a freight train for three days.

MUNOZ: One of the companions, fell off the train and died there. Fell on the tracks.

Like many Central American migrants, Munoz says he is fleeing bad economic conditions and gang violence.

Munoz knows little about U.S. immigration policy. What he does know is that if his family crosses the border and gets apprehended by a U.S. border patrol agent, they can claim asylum. And that he will most likely get to stay in the U.S. while his case is processed.

MUNOZ: Back in Honduras, he’s under death threat. His life was in danger.

Munoz says he’s relieved even to catch a glimpse of the U.S. But that relief may be short-lived. The U.S. denies 85 percent of asylum claims.

AUDIO: [Sound of shelter]

When migrants like the Munoz family arrive in Tijuana, there are shelters working to provide food and supplies. One is here on the beach. Gladys Abad is a volunteer here. Her friend translates.

TRANSLATOR: She has been helping not only the Guatemalan migrants, but also the Central Americans and Mexicans.

Abad left Guatemala 25 years ago and entered the U.S. illegally. After the U.S. deported her in 2008, she settled in Tijuana and started her own shelter for other migrants.

But recently, gangs extorted and threatened her and the migrants at her shelter.

GLADYS: These criminals beat her, and they also took all the documents and money that she has in her bedroom.

To escape the danger, Abad came to stay at this shelter near the border fence. Tourism here makes it relatively safe from gang activity. Eventually, to be with her daughters, Abad wants to apply for asylum via immigration lawyer.

But because of clogged U.S. immigration courts, that could take years. In the meantime, she wants to help migrants arriving from her home country.

AUDIO: [Sound of meeting Efren]

Back at the beach, Efren Galindo Guevara says he’s also finding refuge at this shelter. But he’s not a migrant. Guevara was born in Mexico. His American-citizen grandfather brought him to the U.S. as a baby, where he lived legally for years.

Then in 2013, an immigration judge deported Guevara for a DUI.

Guevara says he doesn’t stray far from this beach. He knows what Mexico’s cartel is capable of. Two years ago, cartel members in Chihuahua state kidnapped him.

EFREN: As long as they know you have family members in the United States, they are going to hold you ransom. If you don’t pay, they will kill you.

Guevara’s family had to pay $10,000 to free him. He shows scars on his body where gang members stabbed him.

EFREN: That pain went straight to my heart. It was so painful. If it wasn’t for God, I wouldn’t be here telling you my story.

For his safety, Mexican authorities sent Guevara to Tijuana. He now spends his days cleaning restaurants and educating migrants on safety in Mexico.

EFREN: Don’t tell nobody where you come from, don’t tell nobody where you’re going. Because these people find out they are going to pick you up. They don’t believe me.

Guevara has tried crossing back into the United States three times to claim asylum with U.S. Border Patrol agents. Three times he was deported.

EFREN: I miss my family real bad. My kids, my friends, my work. Everything. No, I’m going to wait on the paperwork.

But some people at the border are not waiting. As Guevara finishes his story, a group gathers on the beach by the border fence. Hoops and hollers rise from the crowd. Suddenly, someone goes through the fence and onto the U-S side.

AUDIO: [Sound of migrants crossing the border]

One after another, migrants squeeze through until there are 50 people running on the U.S. beach.

Someone managed to pry the fence’s corroded metal bars further apart with a big rock and used a lighter to heat up the chain link fence wire. That made cutting through it easy.

U.S. Border Patrol agents in suburbans and on four-wheelers give chase. They apprehend the migrants one-by-one.  

The last group through the fence hangs back from the crowd, keeping close to the water.

One of them is walking with a limp and a cane. He’s carrying a baby. It’s Oscar Munoz and his family on their way into the United States. Immigration records show everyone in the group claimed asylum with U.S. Border Patrol.  

For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Tijuana, Mexico.

(Gregory Bull/AP) A man holds on to the border wall along the beach, in Tijuana, Mexico. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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