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A tale of two refugee camps in Tijuana

A message from the Thunderbolt

It turns out that if you’re a refugee trying to escape horror and death by coming to the United States via the Mexican border—make sure that you are Ukrainian!

A small army of American volunteers showed up in Tijuana to help incoming Ukranians. The Mexican government provided them with a soccer stadium. The Ukrainian welcome center complex is a large, welcoming space with tons of resources—everything from cooked food, to information flyers, to help for refugees to line up for the next bus.

…unlike Agape, the Ukrainian center had a kids’ area with toys and Legos and a coloring station for older kids. There was prepared food everywhere. There were kennels for the Ukrainian dogs! … whereas at Agape, refugees mostly slept on floors and paid their own way…

The day that reporter James Spring visited this camp, he estimated that between 500 and 800 refugees moved through this shelter and into the United States with an average wait time of 8 hours.

Then Mr. Spring went to another refugee center called Agape, this one populated by refugees with—let’s say—‘darker’ skin tones. This camp had about the same number of people, but they were migrants mainly from Central America and Mexico, and a few from Haiti.

I will quote Mr. Spring here: “Agape is up a dirt road. It’s right between a junkyard and a cemetery. It’s not very big, maybe the size of two Olive Garden restaurants. And I’ll just come out and say it. The place has a very different vibe than the Ukrainian compound.”

Hundreds of Ukrainians moved through daily with an 8–hour wait. In the month previous to Mr. Spring’s visit, only one person from Agape had been legally processed into the US—and he had been waiting at Agape for almost a year.

The [T]Rump used COVID as an excuse to close the border to nearly all immigration for over two years, and now—breaking another solemn promise—Sleepy Joe continued that policy.

But, miraculously, they found a way around that it came to Ukrainians! Ukrainians are accepted into the US through a process called ‘humanitarian parole’ which allows them to stay for up to 12 months.

Mr. Spring decided to take one of the refugees from the Agape center to visit the Ukrainian center. A young woman named Mayra from Michoacán, Mexico volunteered. Mayra had been acting as a nurse at Agape. She was seeking asylum in the United States because the drug gangs in Michoacán had been killing and/or recruiting her family members.

Mayra noted that unlike Agape, the Ukrainian center had a kids’ area with toys and Legos and a coloring station for older kids. There was prepared food everywhere. There were kennels for the Ukrainian dogs! It was explained that Ukrainians had these resources even though most of them weren’t spending the night—whereas at Agape, refugees mostly slept on floors and paid their own way as the center didn’t have enough resources to take care of them or provide them with luxuries—such as food or a bed, for instance.

The fact that the Ukrainians were getting processed so quickly—especially under the guise of ‘humanitarian parole’—was a tough pill for Mayra to swallow. She had attempted to get her father into the US under the ‘humanitarian parole’ exception: his leg had been amputated, he had severe diabetes, and his condition had been steadily getting worse.

His ‘humanitarian parole’ claim was denied and Mayra’s father died soon after at the Agape shelter from medical complications.

As Mayra and Mr. Spring left the Ukrainian facility, they walked past dishes of hot food, cases of bottled water, walls full of clothing and blankets sealed in clear plastic bags, and past the smiling American guards at the front gate. Outside, Mr. Spring pointed out the Mexican cops posted at the corner keeping watch over the Ukrainians and protecting them from gangs.

“What? Really?” Mayra asked. “They get that, too? People shoot at us from outside the shelter, actual gunfire, and the police are almost never around!”

Mayra continued, “I’ve seen so few people, so, so few bringing even a single donation to our shelter. …these kids have so many supplies—crayons, notebooks, Play–Doh, learning materials. Our kids, who are here for months, don’t have these. People who are only here for eight hours [in the Ukrainian camp], they have everything here, everything, all the comforts. They even have Internet. And the truth is, they don’t need it.”

“Honestly here, they don’t even open the things they bring them. They don’t need it. These are people who simply pass through, and they give them everything. Why?”

That is a very good question, Mayra. I have yet to hear an acceptable answer.

Dana Walker lives in Olympia and is the creator of The Thunderbolt, a free–thinker’s sometimes email newsletter

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