The migrant caravan at the U.S., Mexico border is in need of more than just asylum

Leticia Lopez felt unease when she saw recent reports of border agents firing tear gas at members of the migrant caravan — including children — in Tijuana, Mexico.

More than 300 miles away, the Woodville resident was compelled to take action, and she’s now doing her part.

Lopez and other locals began to rally people to collect donations of specific items that are needed by shelters and organizations in Tijuana that are aiding the thousands of Central American asylum seekers in the caravan.

After traveling through Mexico for days, the migrants are stuck at the border waiting to apply for asylum in the U.S. Items in most need include sleeping bags, tents, diapers, hygiene products, cleaning and cooking supplies.

“We want to be able to help effectively,” Lopez said. “We got a list of items that they need, so we put that list together....These donations are going directly to shelters and organizations that have continuously worked with migrants in Tijuana.”

Lopez is one of several individuals and organizations in the central San Joaquin Valley mobilizing efforts to help members of the caravan. Some organizations plan to send staff to the border next month, and at least one other group has already sent a U-Haul full of food.

“We are very concerned about the health and wellness of those stranded at the border,” said Maricela Gutierrez, executive director of Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN).

SIREN is also connecting with groups at the border, and plans to send a legal team and community organizers there next month, Gutierrez said. Food is running short, she said, and medical and clothes items are essential.

Gutierrez’s organization is urging all congressional members representing the Valley to speak up about this issue and reach a resolution. If no action is taken, she said, the situation in Tijuana could lead to disease and further violence.

“These are people that by law are entitled to apply for asylum,” she said. “They are seeking a better life for their families. Something has to be done soon or it’s going to get worse.”

A young boy with the group of Central American migrants that marched from a shelter to the border in order to apply for asylum in the United States, sits in front of a line of Mexican federal police officers as the officers prevent the migrants from getting any closer to the Mexican-U.S border in Tijuana, Mexico on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS) Hayne Palmour IV TNS

On Sunday, border patrol agents fired tear gas at a group of migrants trying to cross the border between Tijuana and San Diego. That resulted in the San Ysidro Port of Entry, which is one of the busiest land border crossings, to be closed for several hours. President Donald Trump has made threats of closing the border permanently, and has repeatedly said the migrants won’t be allowed to come into the U.S.

“This is unacceptable,” Lopez said. “We can’t just let things like this happen.”

Lopez was able to gather a group of people, mostly students from Fresno State, Sacramento State and Stanislaus State, to get involved in helping collect donations. Organizations like SIREN in Fresno and the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights’ in Porterville have allowed their offices to be drop-off locations.

But there’s also a need for volunteers to help distribute the items. A group of about nine people, including Lopez, plan to travel to the border on Dec. 10 to deliver the donations.

Ricardo Castorena, with a group at Cesar E. Chavez Adult Education Center in Fresno that travels from Modesto down to Bakersfield to organize health fairs, said they decided to send a U-Haul truck loaded with food for about 300 people. The truck departed to the border on Sunday.

“That was a goal before what happened on Sunday,” he said in Spanish.

Lopez is surprised by the support the community has shown already. She said it shows that when you have an idea, and you are willing to push it forward, “it can turn into a reality.”

Local drop off locations for items include: the Siren Central Valley Office, 2904 N. Blackstone Ave. Suite 202 in Fresno, and the CHIRLA office, 130 E. Mill Ave. in Porterville.

For more information on donations and drop-off locations, visit: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1729339763839363&id=100002900675858

To make donations through the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, visit: https://chirla.org/FuerzaDelAmor

Yesenia Amaro: 559-441-6144, @YeseniaAmaro
Related stories from Fresno Bee