Press "Enter" to skip to content

Dispatches from Tijuana

An American friend has been in Tijuana and is scheduled to return home after this week. In the last few days we’ve exchanged messages about the Honduran migrants who’ve begun arriving there so dramatically to claim asylum in the U.S.

What follows is his three-part report from the scene — or rather, just off the scene. Tijuana is a large city, over 1.5 million people, and what’s happening varies depending on where you are and whom you’re talking with.

I’ve changed identifying details for privacy, but not changed anything relating to the caravan. And I bolded a few passages of particular interest.


November 17, 2018

Hi Claire,

The migrants are being noticed here. I was warned to stay off the beach, that is apparently a favorite spot for them.

My friends arrived yesterday late afternoon. On the drive into TJ they saw a soccer stadium with the entire playing field covered in 2-man tents. The tents were all the same and erected in perfect lines. Migrants sat in the bleachers, not enough to fill the stadium, but enough.

One of the locals explained a part that US news has not touched, at least in the tiny bit I can stand to read or watch. These migrants are illegal and unwanted in Mexico. How is it that they are not only able to cross the border, but to trek well over 1,000 miles in what should be hostile territory?

Mexico has elected a new president, he takes power in a month or so. They go through this ritual every 6 years. In Mexico, the “peaceful transfer of power” means that the outgoing party does everything possible to trash the country, government, and economy in the months before the new party takes power. That way the new guys get the blame and are more likely to lose next time. It seems to work, at least some of the time.

So the locals think their own government is complicit in this migrant debacle. But several have told me that this is likely to end up being a win for Trump.
They don’t like Trump very much in Mexico, for reasons I’m sure you understand. But they understand that if government has any legitimate purpose at all, it must secure the borders and defend against invasion. Mexican government has abdicated that role, and Trump seems likely to step up.

How Trump will respond to a human wave with the 5% or so token women and children at the front* is hard to know. How the US will respond to the nearly inevitable second wave, which is more likely to be 100,000, is also hard to know.

This could make my exit from TJ more complex than anticipated. The migrants are almost certainly here to attempt a foot crossing at the border checkpoint.
The same border checkpoint I must pass. They didn’t go to Texas or Arizona because that crossing is physically more difficult, and would take place in remote areas where media coverage would be limited. A human wave assault on the TJ highway checkpoint gives them maximum exposure and limits the options of the US authorities.

Interesting times, indeed.


November 19, 2018

One thing I’m seeing on TV tonight is some unnamed person claiming that “95% of the residents of Tijuana” are very concerned or upset about these migrants. That doesn’t match my experience at all.

Cabs here are cheap and I don’t know the neighborhoods, which range from obviously safe to pretty sketchy with very little separation. I ask every cab driver what they think; none of them admit to even knowing about the caravan. I ask the hotel staff; some of them know but none seem at all worried. The staff where I’m visiting during the day knows about it but don’t seem to be too concerned.

Tijuana is a city of nearly 2 million people. A few thousand visitors is a very slow weekday night. The zone next to the border is full of quasi-legal bordellos, they pick up gringos in San Diego and shuttle them into TJ. My friends and I walked this area on Saturday; it seemed like business as usual.

Some 40,000 people cross the US border every day here. I know there was some sort of noisy protest this weekend, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t represent the rank and file residents of this city.

This weekend, there were a lot of people celebrating Mexican independence day. I didn’t see any protests. I saw people going about their lives.

I went out this evening and smoked a fine Cuban cigar. The smoking lounge was watching Monday night football. I read a book about Cuban cigars. No one seemed to being paying any attention to the caravan. I walked the streets, less than a mile from the border and the stadium where the migrants are encamped. Nothing that I could see.


November 20, 2018

I had a chat with the head honcho of the place I’m visiting this morning. People are growing concerned. He agrees that US media is grossly overhyping things and quite politicized. I get CNN and FOX in English in my hotel room. You wouldn’t know they were reporting on the same country.

The honcho is originally from Honduras and has a sister who lives there. He says things are corrupt in Honduras but they aren’t all that different from when he lived there. He says his sister reports no horrible change for the worse.

We agreed that there are agendas and motives at work here that none of us understand.

The biggest impact so far is the border crossing. He normally flies across because he has gotten the special permit (I forget the name) but yesterday instead of 10 minutes it took 50 minutes.

He thinks the people of Tijuana will bear the brunt of the caravan. The 3,000 here now aren’t a big deal, but more arrive every day. There are reports of another 3,000 or so enroute from Mexicali.

The honcho asked why they wouldn’t cross at Mexicali. I pointed out there are more cameras at San Ysidro**; whatever this is, it is NOT about asylum. There may be some geniune cases in the crowd, but whomever is organizing and funding this has some other agenda.


* The other 95% are reported to be mostly young males.

**San Ysidro was the crossing that had to be closed the other day due to some sort of threat or disturbance from the migrants.


  1. ellendra
    ellendra November 20, 2018 9:48 pm

    Always interesting to see the view from the ground. It nearly always differs from what the news claims it is.

  2. James
    James November 21, 2018 4:26 am

    That’s for sure, ellendra. Every time (that I can remember) when I’ve been somewhere that something “newsworthy “ has happened, and then read or viewed news accounts, the thing was unrecognizable.

  3. just waiting
    just waiting November 21, 2018 8:10 am

    My daughter just moved to San Diego about 3 weeks ago. I asked her last night if people were talking about the caravan/invasion. “Nope, haven’t heard a word about it since I left Oregon”

    At least no one is down on the border with Welcome Immigrants signs

  4. Mike
    Mike November 21, 2018 9:23 am

    It’s always interesting reading these “dispatches from the front.”

    The report mentioning how the locals are not as wound up as the talking heads on Fox or CNN would suggest, isn’t really a surprise. It’s the same with media all over. Up here, for example there are a few illegal border crossing into Canada and if one was to believe the media it’s a full-blown crisis even though the numbers don’t match the media claims. A majority of the “news” we get today is nothing but propaganda masquerading as opinion which in turn is masquerading as news. All in the name of ratings.

    I think your friend is right, there probably is an underlying plan to all this by somebody or group down south. But who knows? I’m not going to speculate on things that are above mu pay grade.

    I hope that your friend manages to make it out OK.

  5. Claire
    Claire November 21, 2018 11:08 am

    More from my friend in Tijuana:

    Dear Claire,

    I had another conversation wtih a local, someone born and raised in TJ. They are a small business owner and we had a good talk about employees, taxes, government, and how employers are the one group that everyone agrees is is OK to hate.

    This person believes that the migrants will be absorbed into Tijuana. Trump will certainly not let them pass, although he may be forced into detaining and housing a bunch for a long time. My business owner friend agreed with my analysis that 3,000, or even 6,000 when the Mexicali contingent arrives, represents a fraction of the influx into the Zona Nortre every weekend night.

    He points out that more people than this caravan migrate to Tijuana every year, and have been doing so for a long, long time.

    They come and stay because there is opportunity here. What he sees is that many of the caravan migrants don’t seem to have a work ethic. They protest at being feed refritos, which is a staple food here.

    My friend thinks that soon any migrant with a brain will figure out they can make a better life for themselves here if they work. There’s no shortage of work here.

    Mexico officially has welfare programs, education for migrant children, and free health care. But it is even more corrupt and bureacratically ossified than the US. Very little cash ever makes it to migrant pockets. The school funds were spent long ago. Waits for “free” medical care start at 3 months and go up.

    Even at $10 a day migrants can make 3 or more times what they could ever hope for in their home cities and rural villages. There is opportunity here for those willing to seize it.

    I hope my friend is right. The logistics certainly makes sense; the government will make an increasingly desultry effort with tents, rank toilets, and barely edible food. By springtime, with summer approaching, life in a soccer stadium isn’t going to be very appealing. The smartest and most determined migrants will figure things out soon enough and quietely disappear into this vast city.

    I could imagine a remnant of hard core malcontents who eventually provoke some sort of confrontation, or start committing crimes and getting rounded up. Hopefully most of the process will be peaceful, and Tijuana will continue to grow and prosper.

  6. Jim Brook
    Jim Brook November 21, 2018 11:28 am

    I wonder … if the populations of Guatemala and Honduras empty into the United States, then will the government leaders of those countries also come to the U.S. and apply for asylum, claiming hardship since they have nobody left to parasitize?

  7. Thomas Burns
    Thomas Burns November 23, 2018 7:01 am

    The continued rise of the police state. Freedom declining, tyranny rising in the USA. One more manufactured crisis in a long list.

Leave a Reply