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Border Report: Sanders Visit 'Could Be a Turning Page'

Bernie Sanders visits the border wall, what the Medi-Cal expansion means for San Diego children, a soccer tournament with a cause and more in our biweekly roundup of cross-border news.

As California’s presidential primary draws near, candidates are visiting the state and making the rounds to press the flesh and talk to voters. Former President Bill Clinton appeared in San Diego on Saturday to stump for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump, the sole remaining Republican candidate, will be in San Diego on May 27.

But Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s also trying to secure the Democratic nomination, did something rare for a presidential candidate during his visit to San Diego on Saturday: He made a visit to Friendship Park, and spoke to people through the border wall.

Among them was Hector Barajas, founder of Tijuana’s Deported Veterans Support House (colloquially called “The Bunker”) and himself a deported veteran of the United States Army:

“I’m just very excited that a presidential candidate took the opportunity to visit the wall and speak with the families and a deported veteran,” said Barajas. “For him to tell me, ‘Thank you for your service’ … is huge.”

Sanders also met with Maria Puga, widow of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, who died after he was beaten and repeatedly Tased by border agents in San Ysidro on May 28, 2010. (The agents were found not guilty of wrongdoing, and the Justice Department officially closed the investigation into his death in 2015.)

Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, was with Sanders on the U.S. side of the border.

“I think he was struck by how Friendship Park is both a separation, and a place of encounters,” said Ramirez.

“We’ve always said that folks need to see for themselves what the wall looks like, and to have a sitting member of Congress — a presidential candidate — see it for himself … It’s a narrative that we always talk about in the border region, but it’s never talked about on the campaign trail and I think for that reason alone, it’s a historic moment. This could be a turning page.”

Former VOSD photographer Sam Hodgson has been following Sanders on the campaign trail, including his trip to San Diego and the border wall. Check out his Instagram feed to see some of those shots.

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State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) stopped in San Ysidro on May 13 as part of his tour promoting the Health for All Kids Act, a Medi-Cal expansion that now ensures everyone in the state under 19 is eligible for health care, regardless of immigration status. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in 2015; it went into effect on May 16.

At least 185,000 California children will now be eligible for health care, said Jesse Melgar, Lara’s director of communications. Brown allotted $185 million to the program for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

“After the Affordable Care Act was passed, we realized there was a huge segment of California’s population who were uninsured, specifically undocumented people,” said Melgar. More than 2 million undocumented people who live in the state cannot buy health insurance, which means that insuring undocumented children is a public health issue as well as a humanitarian one.

“People still get sick, they still need to work,” Melgar said. “For California, we realize that we’re in a position that we’re able to do something about it because in DC we’re seeing a stalemate in terms of comprehensive immigration reform.”

The bill potentially affects about 50,000 children in San Diego County.

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Soccer enthusiasts and activists participated in the Copa Zapata at Oceanside Guajome Park on Saturday. The mini-tournament, which raised funds for the Caravana Contra la Repression en Mexico — the Caravan Against Repression in Mexico — is the brainchild of two brothers, Alex and Cesar Ortigoza.

The caravan aims to bring attention in the United States to the issues in Mexico, particularly repression and violence against vulnerable populations there, including the missing Ayotzinapa students, whose disappearance in September 2014 drew worldwide outrage. The tournament is named after Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican revolutionary and champion of agrarianism, whose life and death inspired a movement in Mexico.

Photo by Brooke Binkowski

Photo by Brooke Binkowski

“The sculpture was actually ours,” said Cesar Ortigoza. “It was made by this guy from Michoacan, Mexico. It was really hard for us to let it go, but it was necessary to keep the social movements going in Mexico.”

He said soccer can function as a tool to raise awareness of issues that affect people throughout North America.

“My brother and I thought it would be a good idea to call it the Zapata Cup, as Zapata is a symbol of social struggle for the benefit of the people,” said his brother, Alex Ortigoza.

Teams from San Diego to Los Angeles participated in the mini-tournament, including Legión (which won the title) and players representing Los Rudos, a cross-border fan club of the Tijuana Xolos.

Border News Roundup

• Robin Abcarian is not impressed with the Uber-to-Mexico service. (L.A. Times)

• Arbitrary detention, forced confessions and torture have been a daily reality in Mexico for more than a decade, thanks to the war on drugs and the incentives to extract “evidence,” writes Open Democracy. (Spanish version here.)

• Arrests and detentions are down, but deaths per 10,000 border crossers are five times higher than they were a decade ago. Deaths spike along the border in June, July and August. (Arizona Daily Star)

• Juan Soldado, the “migrant’s saint,” is big in Mexico, especially among migrants who are trying to get to the United States from Central and South America. (The Atlantic)

• The U.S. Justice Department has given a scathing review of the Calexico police department, which has long been plagued by rumors of on-duty criminal conduct. On May 18, the small town’s former police chief filed a whistleblower lawsuit, saying city workers engaged in theft, overtime abuse and — most damningly — drug trafficking. The Justice Department has been monitoring Calexico since at least 2015. (KPBS/Fronteras Desk)

 The L.A. Times has details on what the extradition of drug lord El Chapo to the United States will entail 

• Vaquitas, the tiny, large-eyed porpoise native to Baja California’s Gulf of California, are nearing extinction. According to the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, only about 60 are left in the wild, representing a 40 percent loss since 2015. Environmentalists blame illegal fishing, and are demanding Mexico extend a ban on gillnetting for an endangered fish called the totoaba. The vaquita often get tangled in the nets that are set for the totoaba.

The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. (New York Times)

• Tijuana’s fifth annual Expo Cerveza Artesanal Tijuana (TJ Craft Beer Expo) returns on May 27-28 in Zona Rio. Tickets range from about $12 to $15.

• A man who recruited a human smuggler has pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from the deaths of two unauthorized migrants, the Justice Department announced last week. Eduard Ervemac Saavedra, a Peruvian citizen, admitted to coercing 43-year-old Nicholas Zakov to smuggle people into the U.S. from Tijuana for $3,500. Two men died of hyperthermia while locked in the trunk of Zakov’s car. Zakov previously pleaded guilty to smuggling charges, and received a seven-year prison sentence. Saavedra faces up to life imprisonment.

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