🇲🇽 Migrants at the US-Mexico border: Overcoming walls and prejudice

  • Published on:  2/4/2019
  • When the US government was partially shut down, migrants and asylum seekers along the Mexican border continued trying to enter the country.

    Efforts by President Donald Trump to force the Democratic Party, which controls the House of Representatives, to fund a border wall had reached an impasse, meaning there was no agreement on a budget.

    The government shutdown impacted the normal functioning of unrelated operations of the US government. The crisis also affected people in Mexico who live along the trail the migrants take to get from Central America to the United States.

    And at the centre of the crisis were the migrants seeking a better future in the US. Some simply jump over the wall; others, especially men, seek the help of smugglers to cross the border.

    Javier has smuggled people across the border for more than 25 years, since he was 14.

    He says it's all "changed a lot (since he started smuggling). It first used to take us two to four hours. Then, the way became six to eight hours, and 10 years later, we needed 15 to 20 hours. Nowadays, it takes us 40 to 45 hours to cross the border."

    Since Trump has deployed soldiers and helicopters and installed sensors along the border "it's more complicated. We now have to go around to stay away from the border patrol and it costs more."

    However "there's always another way," says Javier, who believes that Trump's wall cannot stop people from crossing the border. It may be "very high. But we will overcome it."

    Bibian is a Guatemalan migrant who has made her way to Mexico. She and her family suffered the damage caused by tropical storm Agatha, so she wanted to seek a better life for her family.

    "I dreamed of going to the US because it seemed very easy," Bibian says. "That's why many people came along. I thought we could overcome the barriers and move forward without any problem. I didn't know what we would suffer."

    She realised that "it's not going to be easy. There are a lot of racist people who say we're bringing diseases. There are also good people ... those who crossed as migrants and eventually became US citizens. They are supporting us."

    "It's an adventure for me. It's not humiliating or below me. It really is an adventure."

    But opposition against migrants does not just come from the American side of the border. In Tijuana, Alfredo, a restaurant owner and accountant, says he feels his town has been hijacked. But he also blames the Mexican government for not handling the situation in a better way.

    "The very first day we had 500 people here, many of them asked me for power for their cellphones; many of them, children, they asked me for soda, for a pizza. I gladly gave them to them ... but was disappointed," he recalls. "People are afraid of Central American people because on Facebook a lot of people say that they are ... people that are coming to damage the society."

    "We need to get our city back, because right now it feels like it's been kidnapped."

    Hector from Honduras made the journey to the US as a teenager, but he "returned from America because I became an alcoholic and things didn't go well. I thought it was better to leave and return at another time ... Now that I am an adult, I want to return to the US," says Hector.

    "My [pregnant] wife made it to the US. She wasn't hurt or injured."

    Asked about anti-immigrant prejudice on the rise, Hector says: "We are migrant workers. If they could only see the place we came from they would understand."

    "It's easy to conclude that migrants are criminals or that we come to pollute the place ... It's very tough what we've endured to get here, but it doesn't matter, the most important thing for us is getting to the US. It hurts, but what can we do against such stereotypes?

    "There are some of us who may not behave well when they're in other countries. If I'm here in Mexico, I need to be good. And no matter where I go to, I will be good."

    Talk to Al Jazeera In the Field meets the people at the centre of the crisis along Mexico's northern border: smugglers, migrants, asylum seekers and locals.

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