Border Report: The Gulf Between Rhetoric and Reality

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Border Report: The Gulf Between Rhetoric and Reality

A tent city for asylum seekers is growing, the emptiness of partisan outrage and more in our biweekly roundup of border news.

Women chat inside a shelter for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, in 2018. / Photo by David Maung

Hello, faithful readers of the Border Report. We come with an exciting announcement.

My name is Gustavo Solis and I’ll be taking over this newsletter from the capable hands of Maya Srikrishnan, who has been promoted to associate editor for civic education at Voice of San Diego. Srikrishnan will still be doing some reporting, but she’ll be working to bring you more explanatory content, like this San Diego 101 video about who runs the border.

What I love most about this Border Report is how well it separates news from noise by curating the best border stories written by journalists who actually know what they’re talking about. As someone who was born in Mexico, raised in San Diego and has spent years covering the borderlands, I am beyond stoked to be here.

Last week, while preparing to write this newsletter, I came across a Washington Post column that perfectly underscores why we need the Border Report.

The column was written by CNN talking head Fareed Zakaria, a writer with little border experience and a troubled history with plagiarism. In the piece, Zakaria argues that the Biden administration’s “generous immigration policies” could backfire.

What really struck me is how Zakaria described the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, as “a practical policy” that “stopped taking asylum seekers at the southern border, forcing them instead to wait in Mexico for their cases to be resolved.”

It only takes a minute on Google to find out that asylum seekers literally died because of this “practical” policy. The findings of the advocacy group Human Rights First have been widely reported: There are more than 1,500 reported cases of murder, rape, kidnap, torture and assault of asylum-seekers forced to wait in Mexico by the U.S. government.

The trouble with Zakaria’s column isn’t just that it is shitty journalism. It’s that this draft of revisionist history has an international audience. The column is the antithesis of what this newsletter strives to be.

Here at the Border Report, we will give you the news written by the best border reporters in the region. We will interview power brokers and profile unsung heroes. Occasionally, we’ll also break some news.

The Latest on MPP

Speaking of MPP, two local reporters wrote separate stories about a sprawling tent city growing just south of the San Ysidro port of entry. The residents of this tent city are asylum-seekers who have already been waiting in Mexico for months and hope the new president means their wait is finally over.

The Associated Press’ Elliot Spagat explains where the asylum-seekers’ expectations came from.

The Biden administration ended some of former President Donald Trump’s more hardline border policies, proposed a pathway to citizenship for people who are in the United States illegally and promised to create a more humane asylum system. The administration failed, however, to actually outline what the new asylum approach would be or give us a timeline of when it might be implemented.

This lack of information coupled with the Biden administration’s rosy rhetoric has created an expectation that asylum-seekers will be let into the United States sooner rather than later.

KPBS’s Max Rivlin-Nadler painted a vivid picture of life in this growing tent city, which has attracted a crew of volunteer cooks, doctors, teachers and social workers.

The migrants even set up their own security unit after learning that some of Tijuana’s criminal elements were trying to prey on this vulnerable population.

Convention Center Will House Migrant Children

The city and county jointly announced Monday that the San Diego Convention Center, which is winding down its operations as a temporary homeless shelter, will soon shift gears to house unaccompanied children who are seeking asylum at the border.

Newly confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, formerly California’s attorney general, reached out to San Diego officials for help, Mayor Todd Gloria and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said in a statement.

The site will be used for about three months, and will be funded by HHS Refugee Resettlement Program, 10News reports.

Partisan Outrage Over Border Closures

Another story that touches on the disconnect between Washington, D.C., rhetoric and on-the-ground reality came from the Los Angeles Times’ Molly O’Toole.

O’Toole reports that the Biden administration quietly continued a Trump-era coronavirus policy that indefinitely closes the southern border to “nonessential” travel.

The move has economic and humanitarian implications.

For San Diego, it means that San Ysidro’s shopping outlets will continue to be a ghost town. The overwhelming majority of their customers (and sales tax revenue dollars) live in Tijuana.

The policy, Title 42, gives border officials wide discretion to unilaterally refuse asylum-seekers a chance to enter the country. The rationale behind Title 42 is that we need to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The reality of the policy is that last year border officials applied Title 42 to 80 percent of encounters with migrants, resulting in 530,000 expulsions — most of them without due process and away from the public eye.

What makes O-Toole’s reporting so important is how it exposes the emptiness of partisan outrage.

When Trump was still in office, Democrats including then-Sen. Kamala Harris blasted this policy as an unconstitutional executive power grab. Now that Biden is in office, Democrats largely declined to comment when O’Toole reached out.

Baja’s Politics Are on a Different Level

This story is going to make you want to learn how to read in Spanish — or at least find a bilingual friend to translate some of the Daytime Emmy-caliber news coming out of Tijuana.

Processo’s Jesusa Gonzalez reports on Baja California Gov. Jaime Bonilla’s public attack on Jorge Hank Rohn, owner of the Client racetrack, former mayor of Tijuana and current gubernatorial candidate.

Bonilla called Hank Rohn “the most corrupt person in Baja California” and repeated allegations that Hank Rohn had his own private kidnapping squad when he was mayor.

“They were the worst times in Tijuana,” Bonilla said. Hank Rohn “was the king of kidnappings; he gave the instructions of who to release and who to keep. And I hope he sues me for what I am saying so that it all comes to light.”

Hank Rohn has been a controversial figure for decades. He got caught trying to cross the border with an endangered white tiger. The Mexican army seized 88 firearms in his compound and his former head of security was convicted of assassinating a journalist.

Bonilla is no angel, either. His time at the Otay Water District was mired in controversy. As governor, he tried to extend his two-year term to five years until a court ruled against him. It was alleged he used his political power to illegally shut down a beloved Tijuana brewery because his brother lived nearby and thought the brewery was too loud.

For the Road

Finally, I leave you with a few more stories worth checking out.

What do you think?
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