Border Report: The Fight Against Cross-Border Sewage Slogs on

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Border Report: The Fight Against Cross-Border Sewage Slogs on

A proposal requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico is still unclear, San Diego County will vote on using an old family courthouse to shelter migrants and more in our biweekly roundup of border news.

Signs warn of dangerous sewage contamination on a hiking trail near the Tijuana River. / Image via Shutterstock

Sewage from Tijuana continues to plague San Diego’s border beaches.

In early December, a ruptured pipe that was part of the Poniente Collector — a wastewater collector in southeastern Tijuana — began spewing as much as 7 million gallons of sewage into the Tijuana River. A diversion system was able to reduce the flow at the border days later, but the damaged collector pipe continued to spill about 4.4 million gallons a day into the river, the Union-Tribune reported at the time.

Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina said that according to current gauges of the Tijuana River, there is roughly 50 million gallons a day of sewage-polluted water flowing toward the Pacific Ocean. The river gauge measures the river’s flow. When levels are high, Dedina said, it effectively means sewage is being dumped into the river, thus the entire flow is being polluted. Storms, like the ones San Diego experienced earlier this month, tend to increase the flow, but the amount of water should subside after about a week. When it doesn’t, like right now, that signals sewage problems.

For the past five weeks, Imperial Beach and Coronado have had on-and-off beach closures, Dedina said. He attributes much of that to the collector pipe that ruptured in December, which still hasn’t been repaired.

“It feels like we’re back to square one,” Dedina told me.

In February 2017, a different pipe that flows into the Poniente failed, resulting in one of the largest sewage spills in recent memory.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated 230 million gallons had spilled across the border. The International Boundary and Water Commission, a binational agency that oversees cross-border water issues, estimated a range from 28 to 143 million gallons.

The sewage has been so bad that Border Patrol, whose agents get sick because of the waste, put out a call for proposals from private industry last year to help solve the issue. It’s been a problem for decades. The city of San Diego has declared a continuous state of emergency over Tijuana River pollution since 1993.

Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego filed suit last March against the U.S. side of the IBWC, alleging that the agency hasn’t taken sufficient steps to control sewage and waste that regularly flows through the Tijuana River and into the Pacific Ocean. On Tuesday, the city of San Diego will vote on whether to join the lawsuit.

“It’s very clear that authorities in Mexico and federal authorities [here] have no problem having Imperial Beach and Coronado being the sewer of the border,” Dedina said.

Dedina said a long-term solution includes not only upgrading the sewage system in Baja California, but also the 100 percent re-use of water in the region. One such plan involves wastewater in the wine-producing Valle de Guadalupe.

New Border Policies, New Caravan

A proposal requiring asylum-seekers who enter the United States through Mexico to remain in Mexico has been shrouded in confusion and questions since it was first floated. Even though the policy appears to have started, confusion and questions persist.

Vox has more details on how the policy will work, including how procedures would be different for unaccompanied minors or for people who express fear of persecution in Mexico. Twenty asylum-seekers were called on Friday at the port of entry to be processed but reporters in Tijuana said they hadn’t returned to Mexico as of Saturday.

El Pais reported that the Mexican officials were preparing for the policy to begin Monday and that in its first phases, the Mexican government would receive 20 asylum-seekers a day. They will receive humanitarian visas in Mexico while they wait. The policy will eventually extend to both those who enter illegally between ports of entry, and those who enter legally through ports of entry. But in these first stages, only those presenting themselves legally at the port of entry will be subjected to the new policy. On Monday, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services issued an official guidance for the policy.

In a Washington Post op-ed, a spokesman for the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, Roberto Velasco Alvarez, argues Mexico’s new presidential administration is demonstrating a new approach to migration that puts human rights at the forefront. That puts it at odds with certain aspects of the new U.S. policy for asylum-seekers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“In accordance to our new migratory policy, one that puts human rights at its core, Mexico will temporarily welcome some migrants seeking asylum in the United States,” he wrote. “But in the interest of protecting vulnerable migrants, unaccompanied children and those in poor health conditions will not be accepted into our territory from the United States. With this, Mexico reaffirms its adherence to the paramount principle of non-refoulement.”  Non-refoulement refers to the expulsion of those who have the right to be recognized as refugees.

As the policy gets under way, Mexico is looking at ending its program to grant temporary humanitarian visas to the thousands of Central Americans waiting at its southern border. So many of the members of the newest migrant caravan have applied for the one-year visas, which will be renewable and allow them to work, that officials say it risks overwhelming the Mexico immigration system, reports Public Radio International.

  • A reporter and photographer from the Union-Tribune went to Honduras as the newest caravan left. They described a striking sense of helplessness among the people traveling and how different immigration policies in Mexico make this caravan different than the last one.
  • A new survey from the International Organization for Migration provides insight about the people from the fall’s caravan who are currently waiting in Tijuana and what they seek. (Union-Tribune)
  • Tijuana’s mayor is once again saying he won’t provide money or resources to migrants because he believes doing so is the federal government’s job. He also said the city would not provide a shelter for members of the new caravan. (Milenio, Zeta)
  • In 2018, asylum claims in Mexico jumped by 103 percent from the previous year, according to new data from the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance.
  • Radical leftist American activists are flocking to Tijuana. Some provide aid and protection to members of the caravan that arrived in November, but some appear to be agitating caravan members to take more drastic measures at the border. (KPBS)

Clock Is Ticking on San Diego Migrant Shelter Solution

On Tuesday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to lease the old family courthouse building to Jewish Family Service to be used as a migrant shelter.

The San Diego Rapid Response Network, a coalition of local service providers that includes JFS, has stepped up in the past few months to create a temporary shelter for asylum-seeking families being dropped off in San Diego. In October, the Department of Homeland Security changed its policy on reviewing post-release plans for these families and began leaving them in San Diego to find their way with virtually no resources of their own.

Various local nonprofits, activists and service providers have stepped in to provide temporary shelter and medical screening and to help arrange transportation for the families trying to join loved ones and sponsors in other parts of the country. But their resources have been dwindling, and they must vacate the current shelter location in February.

At the state level, Gov. Gavin Newsom included money for the service providers in his budget proposal. Local legislators are trying to secure $5 million of that money as soon as possible.

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