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Read stories about the border, immigration and the San Diego-Baja California region (every other Monday)
A local advocate says a recent border forum was a “disaster,” new southbound border lanes are open for pedestrians, more details are emerging in the death of a journalist in Rosarito and more in our biweekly roundup of news from the U.S.-Mexico border.
This post has been updated.
The November 2013 death of a 16-year-old after border agents made him drink liquid methamphetamine he was carrying is a black mark on U.S. Customs and Border Protection, says the San Diego Union-Tribune’s editorial board. Cruz Marcelino Velázquez Acevedo reportedly told officers Valerie Baird and Adrian Parellon at the San Ysidro crossing into the United States that he had two containers of apple juice; they forced the teenager to drink it instead of testing the substance with kits that are routinely used for people traveling into California. He died later that day.
Despite paying out a $1 million settlement to Velázquez’s family, Customs and Border Protection confirmed it did not discipline the officers involved in the incident.
Now, after video of the incident aired on ABC, legislators are asking the Department of Homeland Security to improve training at border crossings — crucial during a year that the number of border agents may increase dramatically under a bill introduced last week by Senate Republicans.
The bill would also invest $15 billion over four years in border security, authorize the border wall and mandate biometric measurements to track people entering and leaving the United States.
Prototypes of the border wall, originally scheduled to be built in mid-2017, have been delayed by complaints about the bidding process by companies that were not selected. Now, the Trump administration says contracts are unlikely to be awarded until November.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s president denies ever calling Trump to praise his work on the border wall, which the White House originally claimed — then amended.
Whatever shape the wall might take (whether it’s concrete or solar panels), one thing is for certain: Mexico will not be paying for it. A transcript of a phone call between Trump and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto from January shows a shift in diplomatic understanding since the end of the Obama administration so significant that it has left some Mexicans evidently flabbergasted, and others comparing the relationship between the two countries to a late-night comedy skit.
Border issues are expected to take center stage in national discussions in the coming days.
Finally, satirist John Oliver took an in-depth look into the border agent hiring plan during a scathing segment on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” on Sunday.
Nonprofit aid group Border Angels is criticizing an immigration forum at the University of San Diego hosted by the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Community Advisory Board on Aug. 2, which aimed to spark a conversation between both proponents and opponents of current immigration policy, including a DACA recipient, a rancher, a former farm laborer who received amnesty and the president of a local chapter of the National Border Patrol Council.
The discussion, moderated by former City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and immigration attorney Eduardo Orendain, showcased a variety of perspectives from people directly affected by the presence of the border.
Enrique Morones, founder and president of Border Angels, describes the event as a “disaster,” saying that people laughed and clapped at stories about migrant deaths on the border, shouted phrases such as “fuck Mexico!” and cut off people speaking about their experiences with being undocumented in the United States.
We have reached out to others present at the forum and will update with a statement.
Update: After this post published, Goldsmith sent in this statement:
“We had on our panel a man who came across the border undocumented 30 years ago, worked hard and paid taxes for many years and is now a U.S. citizen with a family, including a child who just graduated college. We had a Dreamer who came over at 6 years old with her family undocumented, overcame obstacles and is now a practicing lawyer, with employees and paying taxes. I found their stories compelling and inspiring.”
Crossing deaths are up on the Mexico-United States border, according to a United Nations agency that tracks migrant activity. The International Organization of Migration says that although far fewer people are crossing than in previous years, they are dying at a much higher rate. The organization says 232 fatalities have already been reported in 2017 — an increase of 17 percent compared with the same time period the year before. The agency says that the actual number of deaths is much higher — which is true this year for the entire world.
Meanwhile, pedestrians have a new option when crossing into Tijuana: PedWest opened new southbound lanes earlier this month to ease wait times for those crossing on foot. Around 14 million pedestrians cross into Mexico through San Ysidro every year. The new crossing has been described as “a mixture of Six Flags and prison” — and Tijuana’s ubiquitous yellow taxis are still banned from the area around the point of entry.
A suspect in the shooting death of television journalist Luciano Rivera in a Rosarito bar appeared before a Tijuana judge for a second time over the weekend. Alfredo Ponce is one of at least five people thought to have participated in the murder, which, according to La Jornada, was originally thought to have been a targeted assassination because of his work. It now appears that Rivera, a 29-year-old father of two, had intervened when he saw people being harassed, and was shot by the harassers.
• The Tijuana Zinefest, held on July 15th in Pasaje Rodriguez and Pasaje Gomez just off Revolution, brought together a wide array of dozens of self-publishing and DIY enthusiasts from both sides of the border.
• Serious changes may be coming to Baja California — if Mexico’s tech sector continues its climb, explains this Red Herring feature.
• An elote vendor in Hollywood named Benjamin Ramirez, whose video of Argentinian musician Carlos Hakas swearing at him and telling him to move before knocking over his cart quickly went viral in late July, has received a tremendous outpouring of goodwill and help from people across the United States. Some of that support came in the form of art by local cartoonist Junco Canché. Lemon Grove native Lalo Alcaraz also contributed art to raise money for Ramirez’s family, and got the hashtag #NoJusticeNoElotes briefly trending on Twitter.