I just landed in San Diego. I’ll be here and in Tijuana all week. I’ve got a reasonably full—but not crammed—agenda and a long and evolving list of research questions (reproduced below).
This is an unusual trip for me, for at least four reasons.
First, I’m by myself all week, not with any colleagues. That almost never happens on research trips. This has its disadvantages—I have some blind spots. But it also makes the schedule more flexible and lets me dig deep on the subjects I want to investigate more.
Second, I’ll be spending about two-thirds of the time in “non-interview” settings. I’ll be pulling volunteer shifts at the migrant shelter that local organizations have thrown together to attend to asylum-seekers released by ICE with a court date. I’ll be lingering in the park by the gate in Tijuana where asylum-seekers inscribe themselves in a “notebook” to wait their turn to ask U.S. Customs and Border Protection guards for protection, and where those forced to “remain in Mexico” are returned under a new Trump administration initiative. I’ll be sitting in the federal courthouse watching how California implements “zero tolerance” on those who cross between ports of entry.
I’ll also be meeting with shelter personnel, lawyers, journalists, local government officials, and advocates. Unfortunately I’ve had no luck so far getting meetings with CBP or Border Patrol; I haven’t spoken to the San Diego Sector in a few years.
Third, this is my second time here in five weeks. With the border work, I was starting to feel like one of those “experts” who parachutes into a sector every year or two and pumps everyone for information. Not a great look. With a historic humanitarian (but not security) crisis involving a tide of asylum-seekers, people here are busy. I want to do more accompaniment, and less making them sit across a table fro me while I pepper them with questions. The plan is to spend approximately a week here per month during the first months of the year. I was here January 8-11 and, well, here I am again.
Fourth, a five-day trip is so much better than our norm of two to four. I don’t feel rushed. I can spend time with people without having to run off. I can take lots of notes and process them as I go.
Fifth, my wife and daughter will be joining me at the weekend. Washington’s schools are closed all of next week, and my daughter has a community service requirement. So they’ll be helping out in the migrant shelter too.
Here’s the list of research questions I made. Subject to change.
I. How are asylum-seeking migrants handling “metering” at the port of entry?
A. How does the “notebook” work? What are the system’s flaws?
B. Where are migrants coming from now?
C. Why did migrants go to Tijuana, as opposed to other border crossings? (Caravan made a considered decision)
D. How are migrants arriving? How often do they have humanitarian or other visas?
E. What do migrants say about what they’re fleeing?
F. What do migrants say that their plans are? How do they regard their asylum prospects? Do they seem well informed?
G. What are smugglers telling or offering migrants?
H. How are shelter personnel dealing with this vastly changed population? What is their capacity?
I. Would migrants advise relatives in Central America to attempt the same journey?
II. “Remain in Mexico”
A. How is Remain in Mexico being applied?
B. How many people per day are being returned?
C. What happens to those people while they wait in Mexico? Are shelters able to accommodate them?
D. What do shelters and Tijuana-based officials fear is going to happen?
III. How is the U.S. government performing?
A. What happens to asylum-seekers upon arrival at ports of entry?
B. How many are coming every day, approximately? How many are being let in?
C. What happens with those who are crossing between ports of entry?
D. How is “dumping” occurring with asylum-seeking families in the sector?
E. Is the San Diego sector still #1 or #2 in seizures of heroin, fentanyl, meth, and cocaine?
F. What does the U.S. military deployment look like now? How do stakeholders evaluate it?
G. How do migrants (both regular asylum-seekers and RIM deportees) describe their treatment at the hands of U.S. officials?
H. What are the main use of force issues? Which agencies?
IV. What happens to the Mexican deportee population?
V. How is the Mexican government performing?
A. How is it dealing with “metering?” Are Mexican officials “pre-metering?” How is the humanitarian visa process going?
B. How is the Mexican government pushing back on “Remain in Mexico?”
C. Are Mexican agencies or officials cooperating with U.S. counterparts? Are they doing so in a way that affects migrants’ rights?
D. What is the humanitarian visa issue like right now?
E. What is the Mexican government paying for right now?
F. What do migrants say their experience with the Mexican government has been? Different agencies?
G. Is corruption an issue in Tijuana? How does it manifest with migrants?
H. Are there use-of-force issues with Mexican agencies?
VI. What is the security situation in Tijuana in general?
A. What explains the spike in homicides?
B. How does the security situation impact migrants in Baja California? Have migrants encountered threats or abuse? Do they feel safe? Is the greater threat from common crime or organized crime?
C. Clearly the Sinaloa “Pax Mafiosa” has ended. What is the current configuration of violent groups?
D. How does corruption in the security forces contribute to violence? Which forces are alleged to have the deepest institutional weaknesses?