L.A. Councilman travels to US-Mexico border to help migrants while they wait for asylum

Posted at 9:50 PM, Jan 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-23 23:50:18-05

As thousands of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. remain in limbo in Tijuana, Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo paid a visit to bring donations and other assistance this week.

The councilman has been delivering humanitarian supplies to migrants, many of them from Central America, since hearing of the harsh realities facing those still trying to legally enter the country. KTLA's Elizabeth Espinosa joined him on his most recent trip.

In the border city, it's clear the government shutdown has only made conditions worse — making the legal process even more dragged out for refugees still applying and waiting. Meanwhile, other issues that have plagued their journey continue to cause concern.

"Children died in our possession. The government failed to reveal that thousands of families were separated," Cedillo said.

Mexican aide workers said they are trying to help asylum seekers understand the necessary paperwork, but for many poor migrants, it's an already difficult task made more frustrating by a lack of reading and writing skills.

That can mean the migrants may have a solid case for asylum, but just not the necessary paper evidence to get through, the aide workers said.

Shelters and migrant camps throughout the Tijuana area show the grim conditions many are living in as they await the process to legally enter the U.S. Cedillo is working to repair some shelters alongside other humanitarian workers.

Wooden floors can be seen caving in beneath thin mattresses in windowless quarters at a shelter called "Hotel Migrante." Water leaks through the roof in a room where the only usable restroom is little more than a hole in the ground.

Still, some have remained committed to getting through the months-long stay. At a Catholic shelter called "El Desayunador Salesiano," 19-year-old Raul of El Salvador said he has found some work but not enough. He makes around just $7.80 a day.

"We're not criminals," he said, according to a translation from KTLA's Espinosa. "We just want an opportunity to earn a living to help our families."

Inside one shelter, a group of Honduran men say they are still waiting for their immigration cases to be reviewed. Sitting alongside the men, Cedillo said they should be on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border — where they would have refuge and would be going through the usual legal process.

"Well, obviously they have a right to apply for asylum in our country," the councilman said. "There’s no reason why we should be trying to force them to return, which is what we’re doing."

For Raul, the difficult wait has been long enough and he has decided to accept United Nations assistance. He plans to return to El Salvador.

Migrant advocates in Mexico said President Donald Trump should come to Tijuana and see the realities facing migrants first-hand. The city continues to grapple with an influx of asylum seekers from other parts of the world aside from Central America.

"The solution is very simple: the president needs to respect the laws that all of us are governed by," Cedillo said, explaining the asylum seekers should be going before an immigration judge and be given refuge in the U.S.

"People have a right to apply for asylum in our country," he said. "It’s a legal right they have."