Holding On to Hope

November 8, 2019
EDUARDO JARAMILLO CASTRO—AFP/GETTY IMAGES

TIJUANA, Mexico—On a child’s first day at the Yes We Can World Foundation school, he or she gets two T-shirts, new shoes, and a backpack filled with school supplies. The school is for migrant kids from Central America and Mexico. They have left their homes and traveled north with family to legally ask for asylum in the U.S.

MORNING MEETING Teacher Sandra Rodríguez greets students at the Yes We Can World Foundation school in Tijuana, Mexico, on October 3.

JAIME JOYCE FOR TIME FOR KIDS

But the U.S. has a new policy. It’s called the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP. It says Central Americans must stay in Mexico as their cases are decided in U.S. Immigration Court (see “Border Crisis”). In the past, they could wait in the U.S. MPP doesn’t apply to Mexicans. They must stay in Mexico too but are put on a waiting list to ask for asylum.

Now thousands of asylum seekers are stuck in Tijuana and other Mexican border cities (see map). People are working to help them as they wait.

Safe Spaces to Learn

The Yes We Can World Foundation school is in Tijuana. It opened in July. The school has 45 students. Lessons are taught in a bus. The bus has been turned into a classroom. Students and their families live in an overcrowded shelter next door.

“There is no difference between our kids and kids in the U.S.,” Estefanía Rebellón tells me. She’s the school’s cofounder. “Their whole world, their life, is moving. We’re the stable part.”

In October, a group from California donated a second bus. This will allow the school to include 30 more kids. “It’s so awesome to see how kind people can be,” Rebellón says.

LINE UP! Migrant children take part in an activity led by the Schoolbox Project on August 12. Each week, its volunteers serve 150 kids in three shelters in Tijuana.

OMAR MARTINEZ—GETTY IMAGES

The Schoolbox Project also helps kids in Tijuana. It’s led by volunteers from a group called Border Angels. They go to three shelters each week and help 150 kids. “We try to make a space of safety and trust with the children,” says coordinator Andrea Rincón.

I went to a shelter with the volunteers. There, I met a girl from Honduras. Her name is Michelle. She’s 17 and wants to be a doctor. Michelle told me violence forced her family to flee. “It’s very, very dangerous,” she said about her country.

A New Beginning

In rare cases, migrants might wait in the U.S. as their asylum case is decided. At a shelter in San Diego, California, I met Rina Murillo. She has three sons. They are 14, 10, and 4. Murillo’s family also fled Honduras. “We suffered hunger, cold, and heat” on the journey, she told me.

The family was getting ready to live with a sponsor in Atlanta, Georgia. The older boys will go back to school. I asked 14-year-old David if he was excited. “Mucho [very much],” he said. Science is one of David’s favorite subjects. He looks forward to a fresh start in the U.S. “All the sacrifice was worth it because we are here now,” he said.

Other young migrants stay positive, even as they wait in Mexico. Elizabeth, 6, is from Guatemala. She goes to the Yes We Can school. She dreams of being with family in the U.S. “When I cross into the U.S., I’m going to eat ice cream,” she says, “and play with my cousin.”

MAPS BY DREW WILLIS FOR TIME FOR KIDS

Border Crisis

At least 900,000 migrants have come to the U.S.-Mexico border since October 2018. The U.S. government calls it a “humanitarian and security crisis.” In response, the U.S. has created the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP.

The government says MPP “will help restore a safe and orderly immigration process.” It says Mexico will give migrants humanitarian protections. MPP began in January. Since then, more than 50,000 migrants have been made to wait in Mexico.

But Human Rights Watch says MPP puts people at risk. Crime is common in some Mexican border towns where migrants wait.

Waiting in Mexico also makes it hard for migrants to meet with U.S. lawyers. “What’s really going to make a difference in an asylum seeker’s case is good legal representation,” Lea Bush says. She works with Jewish Family Service of San Diego. Last year, the group helped more than 17,000 asylum seekers.

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