Tijuana’s Changed Migration Landscape

In Tijuana, the modalities of migration changed significantly during the decade of 2000-2010. Reinforced US border walls, stepped-up on-the-ground vigilance, zooming helicopters and high tech surveillance on the US side of the border forced would-be migrants into more dangerous passages. The transformed landscape dramatically increased the cost of crossing, and strengthened transnational outlaw groups that profit from trafficking migrants.

Simultaneously, the new travel conditions directly impacted life in Tijuana. Entrapped on the border, large populations of Mexican and Central American migrants not only bloated the reserve army of cheap labor for the factories that assemble goods for export to the United States, but also provided pools of recruits for the businesses of drug trafficking, prostitution and child pornography.

Today, three basic means exist of locally crossing the US border without papers. For a price ranging between two and three thousand dollars per person, migrants can pay smuggling gangs to steer them into risky mountain zones or the desert between Mexicali and Arizona. A second option involves paying a higher fee of between six and seven thousand dollars for passage through one of the so-called narco-tunnels that penetrate the California border, sometimes in return for helping to smuggle illegal narcotics.

A third way is by high-speed boats that embark from beaches around Rosarito and touch shore in the Golden State. The ocean cruise is a costly one, fetching smugglers from six to eight thousand dollars per ticket.

Benedicto Ruiz, a Baja California professor who studies the migration phenomenon, said control of the immigrant smuggling system has shifted from the hands of old-time “polleros” to traffickers involved in a variety of illicit enterprises.

“No longer are they the traditional (smugglers), but groups of delinquents that charge migrants and look for another passage across the border…” Ruiz said in an interview with the Mexican press. “The number of deaths has increased, because people try to cross the mountains of Tecate and La Rumorosa. They gear up, enter arid and difficult zones and die in the intent to cross. This is constant.”

Many migrants who do not reach the US wind up living in Tijuana’s expanding “belt of misery,” populating low-income neighborhoods including Valle Verde, Obrera, Lomas Taurinas, La Esperanza, El Nino, La Morita, and others. The numbers of new residents increased even as high rates of unemployment struck Tijuana after 2008.

Hundreds of youthful migrants, including young people deported from the United States, reportedly wander Tijuana’s streets searching for food, water and money. Some live along the local river, invisible to the state and society.

Stuck on the border, the stranded young migrants become easy prey for prostitution and other rackets or get sucked into the local drug economy as users and sellers.

Source: La Jornada, December 29, 2010. Article by Roberto Garduno.


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