Lines at border crossings in California, Texas and Arizona are so busy with asylum seekers that some have to wait days, even weeks.
ELLIOT SPAGAT | NOMAAN MERCHANT
TIJUANA.- The Trump administration’s tough talk on immigration did not deter Telma Ramirez from making the trip from El Salvador to seek asylum in the United States. She arrived at the border in Tijuana with her 5-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter only to find a crush of other immigrant asylumseekers already in line ahead of them.
The 27-year-old mother had been checking in at the Mexican entrance to the border crossing to see if civilian volunteers were close to calling their numbers, reminiscent of a host station at a crowded restaurant.
Finally, on the 20th day, Ramirez made it to the front of the line to come across the border. Lines at border crossings in California, Texas and Arizona are so busy with asylum seekers that some have to wait days, even weeks, to present themselves to U.S. border inspectors.
At the Hidalgo, Texas, border crossing, parents and children sleep on cardboard on a bridge separating the two countries, waiting for U.S. authorities to signal their time has come, according to volunteers bringing them food and water. Some wait several days in sweltering heat. Lawyers say asylum seekers at the Nogales, Arizona, crossing are camping out up for five days to make a claim.
Across from San Diego, more than 100 asylum seekers gathered Monday in a large plaza at the Tijuana side of the nation’s busiest border crossing, alongside taxis dropping off kids who cross the border for school and vendors selling oatmeal, tamales, burritos and smoothies from carts. Families whose numbers aren’t called return to Tijuana migrant shelters to idly pass the time with their children. Volunteer Carlos Salio tells them the wait is about three weeks. “You have to come here every day,” Ramirez said.
“If not you, lose your place in line.” Salio consults his tattered notebook of people who left their names with him, calling them out when their turn comes. When U.S. authorities said 50 would be allowed to claim asylum that day, Salio encouraged people to go back to their shelters. “Everyone knows that when your number is close, you better be here,” he tells the crowd, many of them women with young children.
The exact reasons for the border crossing bottleneck are unclear. It comes amid the Trump administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy to prosecute every immigrant arrested for illegal entry, setting off an uproar among critics because it is causing immigrant parents to be separated from their children.