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Fewer Asylum-Seekers Checking Waitlist Status at U.S.-Mexico Border in Tijuana

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People listen as a volunteer calls out the names on a waiting list for asylum-seekers waiting to see U.S. authorities on Nov. 21, 2018. The list is being kept by asylum-seekers themselves to maintain order for those waiting and for those who have just arrived at the port of entry. (David Maung/KQED)

Since late November, asylum-seeking migrants have been gathering regularly in the early hours near the El Chaparral Plaza at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana, hoping to hear their names read from a very, very long list.

The list, which still has nearly 4,000 names on it and is maintained by the asylum-seekers themselves, determines who may line up to legally enter the United States on a given day to apply for asylum.

Recently, the number of migrants turning up when their names are called has been thinning.

Many of the migrants are from the so-called migrant caravan of Central Americans, which arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border at the end of November. Some have been waiting for weeks, even months, for their names to be called.

Volunteers working to help asylum-seekers — many of whom are fleeing gang and domestic violence in their home countries — cited shelter shutdowns and simply the challenging state the migrants were forced to wait in, as some of the reasons why migrants were not showing up in greater numbers.

Adelita Simone, who volunteers with the asylum-seekers, talked about the impact of shelter closures.

“They just shut down Benito Juarez, one of the shelters here close by, where people were staying,” she said. “They had to move people to different shelters. [Migrants] don’t know how to get here. They have to pay for transportation to get here.”


Simone has been helping coordinate travel for migrants between a large shelter on the east side of Tijuana and the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

If someone's number is called and they are not present, Simone and other volunteers have tried to locate that person so they can enter the next day.

“Sometimes they’ve gone as high as 400 names, and that was two days ago, in order for 40 people to pass,” said Rebecca Brogdon, a retired nurse from Santa Cruz volunteering to help asylum-seekers keep their place in line.

On Jan. 8, for example, 30 people who were not present previously were allowed to cross the U.S. border. A total of 60 people were allowed to enter the United States that day.

The list is read until all available slots being offered by the U.S. government that day are filled. Overall, the number of asylum-seekers processed each day has gone down since the fall.

Limiting the number of people who can enter each day was enacted under a policy dubbed “metering.” The slowdown in processing has forced asylum-seekers to study options other than waiting around for weeks and months to be processed in Tijuana.

“We know people who have taken all different types of migration strategies,” said Jillian White, another volunteer. “Some people who have truly found it uncomfortable here had to make very difficult decisions about going back to countries where they don’t feel safe.”

White also said there are people who aren't able to wait around to be called from the list, and “do whatever they can to access their legal right to ask for asylum.”

Families apprehended crossing the U.S. between ports of entry have risen every month since the Trump administration began its metering policy.

With almost 4,000 numbers still on the list, there are still enough people showing up every day to fill the slots that the U.S. government has made available, even as the crowd waiting in the plaza has begun to thin out.

“This week feels emptier than even last week, which feels a little emptier than a week before,” said White.

Due to the ongoing partial government shutdown, U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment.

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