Undocumented immigrants try to rush into US in ‘waves,’ spark showdown with CBP agents

pharrThe Pharr International Bridge in 2001

 

One of the biggest ports of entry along the US-Mexico border had to be shut down on Friday after a group of undocumented immigrants — nearly 50 of them — attempted to rush into the United States in “waves,” according to federal officials.

The mad dash went down at the Pharr International Bridge in Texas at about 4 a.m., officials said, and sparked a showdown with Customs and Border Protection agents.

“A group of 47 undocumented individuals attempted to illegally enter the United States in three waves,” the agency said in a statement, according to KGBT.

“Ignoring commands to stop, the group suddenly rushed the temporary barricades, bent metal poles and disabled the concertina wire affixed to the barrier.”

Several CBP officers were assaulted during the mayhem but expected to be OK. They had to deploy tear gas and pepper balls in order to stop the group.

At least 16 of the immigrants were taken into custody by federal officers. Mexican authorities took the remaining individuals.

 

 

Record number of African migrants coming to Mexican border

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Undaunted by a dangerous journey over thousands of miles, people fleeing economic hardship and human rights abuses in African countries are coming to the U.S.Mexico border in unprecedented numbers, surprising Border Patrol agents more accustomed to Spanishspeaking migrants.

Officials in Texas and even Maine are scrambling to absorb the sharp increase in African migrants. They are coming to America after flying across the Atlantic Ocean to South America and then embarking on an often harrowing overland journey.

In one recent week, agents in the Border Patrols Del Rio sector stopped more than 500 African migrants found walking in separate groups along the arid land after splashing across the Rio Grande, children in tow.

That is more than double the total of 211 African migrants who were detained by the Border Patrol along the entire 2,000mile (3,200kilometer) U.S.Mexico border in the 2018 fiscal year.

We are continuing to see a rise in apprehensions of immigrants from countries not normally encountered in our area, said Raul Ortiz, head of the U.S. Border Patrols Del Rio sector.

The immigrants in Texas were mostly from the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Cameroonians have also been traveling up through Mexico and into the U.S. in larger numbers and seeking asylum at ports of entry.

On recent Saturday in Tijuana, there were 90 Cameroonians lined up to get on a waiting list to request asylum that has swelled to about 7,500 names. Also on the waiting list are Ethiopians, Eritreans, Mauritanians, Sudanese and Congolese.

Cameroonians generally fly to Ecuador because no visa is required and take about four months to reach Tijuana. They walk for days in Panama through dense jungle, where they are often robbed and held in governmentrun camps. They come from Cameroons Englishspeaking south with horrifying stories of rape, murder and torture committed since late 2016 by soldiers of the countrys Frenchspeaking majority, which holds power.

A few days after the big groups of African immigrants were apprehended in Texas, federal officials dropped off dozens of them in San Antonio. Officials in the Texas city sent out a plea for Frenchspeaking volunteers for translating work and most importantly, making our guests feel welcome.

Many were bused to Portland, Maine, about as far as one can get from the Mexican border and still be in the continental United States. Word has spread among migrants that the city of 67,000 is a welcoming place. Somali refugees were resettled in Portland in the 1990s.

A total of 170 asylum seekers arrived in recent days. Hundreds more are expected in an influx that City Manager Jon Jennings called unprecedented. With one shelter already full, a basketball venue called the Portland Exposition Building was converted into an emergency shelter.

Portland officials tweeted Thursday that rumors some of the migrants are carrying the Ebola virus are patently false, and said that as asylum seekers, they are in the United States legally.

On Thursday afternoon, families in the Expo chatted in French and Portuguese as children kicked a soccer ball near rows of cots. One of the men, 26yearold Prince Pombo, described himself as a prodemocracy activist and said he had fled his native country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, because of political oppression. He went to neighboring Angola, then flew to Brazil. There, he met a local woman and they had a baby they named Heaven. Now 16months old, she giggled as she played with her mother in the Expo. Pombo said his journey from Congo to America took three years.

More migrants are on the way. Mexico is on pace to triple the number of African immigrants it is processing this year, up from 2,100 in 2017.

Mbi Deric Ambi, from the Englishspeaking part of Cameroon, is among them. In a recent interview in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, Ambi said he was waiting for a document from the Mexican authorities that would allow him to proceed north to the U.S. He traveled overland through South and Central America after flying to Ecuador.

Human Rights Watch says 1,800 people have been killed and half a million have fled their homes in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon since late 2016. A United Nations official says 4.3 million people need humanitarian assistance.

We dont have jobs in the English part, the educational system is poor, they are looking at us as dogs, Ambi said as a crowd of migrants jostled outside an immigration center in Tapachula, waiting for their names to be called to collect their travel document. Ambi has been waiting every morning for six weeks.

We just have to be patient, because there is nothing we can do, he said.

The explosion in immigration to the United States from subSaharan Africa coincides with a steep drop in the migration flow across the Mediterranean to Europe after European countries and two main embarkation points — Turkey and Libya — decided to crack down. From Jan. 1 to June 12, only 24,600 migrants arrived in Europe by sea, compared to 99,600 over the same period in 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration.

But IOM spokesman Joel Millman doubts the migrant path for Africans has swung over from Europe to America.

Pombo, who was a teacher in Congo, learned in an internet search and by asking around that Portland is good place for migrants. He said his next step is to start rebuilding a life for himself and his family.

Id like to feel safe. Id like to build a decent life, he said. I need to start again.

Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon. AP reporters Elliot Spagat in Tijuana, Maria Verza in Tapachula, Mexico, contributed to this report.

 

A Huge Caravan Of Central Americans Is Headed For The US, And No One In Mexico Is Stopping Them!

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Taking a drag from her cigarette, a Mexican immigration agent looked out toward a caravan of migrants that grew larger with each step they took on the two-lane highway.

When the agent, who’d covered her uniform with an orange and white shawl, learned that the Central American migrants heading her way numbered more than 1,000, she took off for the restaurant across the street.

“I’m going to have a relaxing Coke,” she told BuzzFeed News.

For five days now hundreds of Central Americans — children, women and men, most of them from Honduras — have boldly crossed immigration check points, military bases, and police in a desperate, sometimes chaotic march toward the United States. Despite being in Mexico without authorization, no one has made any effort to stop them.

Organized by a group of volunteers called Pueblos Sin Fronteras, or People Without Borders, the caravan is intended to help migrants safely reach the United States, not only bypassing authorities who would seek to deport them, but gangs and cartels who are known to assault vulnerable migrants.

Organizers like Rodrigo Abeja hope that the sheer size of the crowd will give immigration authorities and criminals pause before trying to stop them.

“If we all protect each other we’ll get through this together,” Abeja yelled through a loudspeaker on the morning they left Tapachula, on Mexico’s border with Guatemala, for the nearly monthlong trek.

When they get to the US, they hope American authorities will grant them asylum or, for some, be absent when they attempt to cross the border illegally. More likely is that it will set up an enormous challenge to the Trump administration’s immigration policies and its ability to deal with an organized group of migrants numbering in the hundreds.

The number of people who showed up to travel with the caravan caught organizers by surprise, and overwhelmed the various towns they’ve stopped in to spend the night. Pueblos Sin Fronteras counted about 1,200 people on the first day.

About 80% of them are from Honduras. Many said they are fleeing poverty, but also political unrest and violence that followed the swearing in of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez after a highly contested election last year. The group often breaks into chants of “Out with JOH.” They also chant “we aren’t immigrants, we’re international workers” and “the people united will never be defeated.”

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Sweating after miles of walking in more than 90-degree heat with her two kids, Karen said conditions in Honduras were so bad she decided to take a chance with the caravan. She declined to give her full name.

“The crime rate is horrible you can’t live there,” Karen told BuzzFeed News on the side of a highway near Huixtla, a town in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. “After the president (was sworn in) it got worse. There were deaths, mobs, robbed homes, adults and kids were beaten up.”

Before setting foot on the journey, the migrants were organized into groups of 10 to 15 people, and a leader was designated for each group. Five groups were then banded together in what organizers call a sector. While there are organizers from Pueblos Sin Fronteras leading the way, much of the effort to get to the US border is in the hands of the migrants themselves.

They’ve been organized into security, food, and logistics committees. Organizers say it’s meant to help the migrants empower themselves.

Sandra Perez, 40, who’s also from Honduras, is one of two women who belong to the security committee. It’s not her first caravan, she has traveled with a procession of Central American mothers through Mexico in search of disappeared migrants.

“I like doing this, it makes me happy and I feel useful,” she told BuzzFeed News.

Twenty-nine-year old Mateo Juan said the caravan was his third attempt at getting to the United States. Seven months ago, Mexican immigration officers pulled him off the bus. The same happened about a month ago.

He heard about the caravan in March when he arrived in Tapachula, the caravan’s starting point.

“Going alone is risky, you’re risking an accident, getting jumped by robbers, and even your life,” he told BuzzFeed News. “All of that, and then you don’t get to the United States. The caravan is slower but you know you’re going to get there safely.”

Still, there are no guarantees on the route or assurances that once they reach the US border they’ll be able to cross undetected or be allowed to stay under some type of protection like asylum.

Alex Mensing, another organizer with Pueblos Sin Fronteras, made that point clear to the migrants before the group started out. He also stressed that everyone is responsible for their own food, water, and payment for vans or buses. Still, it’s far cheaper than being assaulted or falling into the hands of unscrupulous smugglers.

“I’m here to work together with the people who had to leave their countries for whatever reason,” Mensing said through a loudspeaker. “We’re fighting together. We’re not here to give anyone papers and we’re not here to give anyone food.”

Mensing said Pueblos Sin Fronteras isn’t calling on people to make the trek, but if they’re going to try to go through Mexico on the way to the United States, the group will help them.

The caravan propels itself forward using whatever way it can. Sometimes that means packing into the back of a truck, negotiating lower rates for vans, or hitching a ride on the back of empty big rigs from whatever town they’re in. The group sleeps in town plazas. Local townspeople and churches feed them.

In the evening, when the group settles in for the night, the kids play in playgrounds or dart among the crowd, chasing each other. Teenagers and adults play soccer using rocks as goal posts.

On Tuesday, the caravan had plans to board the freight train known as “The Beast” or sometimes “The Train of Death” in Arriaga to speed the journey north. It’s a dangerous part of the journey, with death and injury only too possible from a precarious perch atop a rail car, and the group practiced boarding, one woman in a purple shirt slowly making her way up a parked train’s ladder while the crowd below cheered her on. On another train car, men wearing backpacks steadily made their way up one by one.

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“This is so the women and children can lose their fear, know what it’s like to board the train, and turn back if they want,” Irineo Mujica, director of Pueblos Sin Fronteras, told the crowd.

But the train Mujica hoped would move the entire group to Puebla, one of their stops, never came, and in the end, the group boarded trucks and school buses to cover the distance to San Pedro Tapanatepec, a town in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

The move to the trucks was frantic, as people jostled for the limited space, and the security committees made a chain to hold people back. Mostly women and children wearing backpacks and carrying jugs of water got on the first truck.

Moving the entire group took hours, and some of the men, unable to gain a space in the vehicles, walked all night to join the rest of the group. On Friday, Good Friday, the organizers hope to board “The Beast” at another location.

Mujica said he was left with a sense of disbelief at seeing so many people go through such hardship in search of a better life.

“I can’t imagine my son walking on top of these trains, I can’t imagine hiding my children just to get to a city that’s four hours away,” Mujica said. “These are good people who are suffering as if they were slaves and putting their kids’ lives at risk. But it is what it is.”

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