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Maya Srikrishnan's biweekly roundup of stories on the border, immigration and the San Diego-Baja California region (Mondays)
The Trump administration is cracking down on asylum again, Baja California reached the highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic and more in our biweekly roundup of border news.
It’s been an extremely violent year for Tijuana. In the final hours of this weekend alone, the city registered 12 homicides, Zeta reports, bringing the total to 1,917, slightly below the previous year’s death toll.
Tijuana ended 2019 with more than 2,100 registered murders and had the highest murder rate per capita of any city in Mexico.
“We are still expecting 2019 to have been the most violent,” said Laura Calderón, program director of the Justice in Mexico program at the University of San Diego. “But it’s still very high and very shocking in comparison to the rest of the country.”
The causes of violence this year remain similar to those of the past.
“We know Tijuana is a major strategic point for drug trafficking and lately even more so for drug production,” Calderón said.
The Sinaloa and Arellano Felix cartels have long been at war with each other for “turf.” After the arrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in 2016, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel became increasingly involved in Tijuana, said Calderón.
In 2018, Jalisco New Generation Cartel’s presence in Tijuana intensified, and now several groups are fighting for control in Tijuana.
“They’re not only fighting for major plazas and smuggling routes, but they’re also fighting for corners,” Calderón said. Because there are so many low-level dealers battling for individual blocks, the violence stemming from the local drug trade in recent years has differed from the drug violence of the past.
It’s still unclear what impact the pandemic has had on violence in the region. When the biggest pandemic-related restrictions went into place in March, one might have expected activity by organized crime and violence to also subside. But it didn’t. In fact, it continued to rise through April and to a high point in May before plunging in June.
“What we do know about COVID-19 is that it is affecting the logistics of criminal organizations,” Calderón said. “The border is closed, some of the largest ports are restricted.”
Calderón said that has led some academics to argue that, because Tijuana is an industrial city with plenty of areas for storage, the violence is likely to remain steady or even increase.
There are other reasons to think the violence would have been worse if not for the novel coronavirus. For example, Mexico’s National Guard, which was sent to the border to patrol hotspots in Tijuana and conduct checkpoints, is now largely involved in enforcing COVID-19 measures, like ensuring people are wearing masks and avoiding social gatherings.
Tijuana’s business community had also been increasingly involved in trying to quell the violence, but has been hit hard financially by the closures caused by the pandemic.
While it’s not directly related to the pandemic, Calderón also noted that an ongoing conflict between Baja California’s governor and Tijuana’s mayor may be impacting attempts to mitigate the violence. For example, Tijuana’s secretary of public security was recently kicked off the state’s security council.
Last week, the Trump administration finalized a new rule that would cut off access to asylum for most migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border through a series of changes to the criteria that makes people eligible for asylum, Reuters reports. The 419-page rule includes directing asylum officers and immigration judges to deny certain types of asylum claims, including those based on domestic abuse and gang violence, with some exceptions.
The rule is set to take effect on Jan. 11, 2021.
I spoke with Jenny Pizer, an attorney with Lambda Legal, an organization focused on the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and people living with HIV, about how these regulations would particularly impact LGBT asylum-seekers. Pizer’s organization is getting ready to challenge the rule in court.
Between 2007 and 2017, at least 4,385 people who have sought asylum in the United States have done so through a claim of anti-LGBT persecution in their home country, according to NBC News.
There are several provisions in the lengthy new rule that would make it particularly difficult for LGBT asylum-seekers, Pizer said.
One of the provisions, for example, requires that asylum-seekers present evidence that they were being prosecuted back home for being LGBT or having same-sex relationships.
“That would mean someone basically would need to be arrested and then somehow escape,” Pizer said.
The administration is once again trying to require asylum-seekers to seek asylum in countries through which they have traveled on their way to the United States, which is problematic if those countries of transit are also hostile to LGBT people.
The rule also limits the types of persecution that can be the legal basis of an asylum application. For example, the rule says that persecution based on one’s advocacy applies only when the advocacy is about who controls state leadership. Many queer or trans advocates are persecuted for trying to change laws that criminalize LGBT people, Pizer said, and this would preclude them from qualifying. The rule also says persecution needs to be done by state actors or “rogue officials” of the government.
For LGBT people, it is often police who are aggressive, violent or refuse to protect them, “but often the persecution is from other members of the community or even family members who may believe they were shamed by the behaviors of a queer or trans person,” Pizer said.
“There’s often this profound lack of awareness of LGBTQ people in many parts of the world and the role that asylum has played for people’s very survival,” Pizer said. “The callous cruelty of this administration, devoting so much energy to slamming the door and leaving people in conditions where their lives are at stake is appalling.”