TIJUANA, Mexico—Mexican authorities began moving Central American migrants out of an overcrowded shelter near the U.S. border and taking them to a former concert venue much farther away in Tijuana, warning Friday that services will be cut off at the first site.
Hundreds of migrants boarded buses at the overcrowded sports complex within view of the border for the trip to the new shelter about 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the border crossing at Otay Mesa and 14 miles (22 kilometers) from San Ysidro, where asylum claimants line up.
Carlos Padilla, a 57-year old who sold jewelry as a street vendor in Honduras, waited outside the flooded sports complex as it was being cleared out by authorities. He was with a 12-year-old boy who he took under his wing after the boy’s parents left the caravan to return to Honduras.
Sitting on a curb with soaking wet shoes and socks that he keeps on at night for fear they will be stolen, Padilla said he slept on canopy-covered pavement at the sports complex but wind blew water through exposed sides.
Bathrooms were flooded and there was no toilet paper.
“It was terrible,” said Padilla, who hopes to claim asylum with the boy in the U.S. and join a brother in Los Angeles. “It was like (sleeping) on the beach.”
Still, as many as half the 6,000 or so migrants who have been staying at the sports complex were milling around at midafternoon, apparently unwilling to relocate to the new shelter much farther from the border.
Alejandro Magallanes, an assistant to the director of the city’s social services department, said officials hoped to bus as many migrants as possible Friday. Concerns had been growing over unhealthy conditions at the muddy sports field where migrants are sleeping in small tents.
Magallanes said nobody would be forced to move to the new facility, a large building and concrete patio known as El Barretal that has been used for concerts and other events up until about six years ago.
But city officials planned to stop offering food and medical services at the Benito Juarez sports complex next to the border Friday, and any migrants who stay will have to find their own food, Magallanes said.
Jose Castro, a 45-year-old banana picker from Honduras, said he had slept with his wife and their two daughters, ages 4 and 5, under wet cotton sheets on an open field inside the shelter. He plans to seek asylum in the United States.
Asked to describe conditions at the sports complex, he could only croak “mud, water, wind,” having nearly lost his voice with a bad cough.
Experts had expressed concerns about unsanitary conditions at the sports complex, where more than 6,000 migrants have been packed into a space adequate for half that many people. Mud, lice infestations, and respiratory infections were rampant.
Magallanes said many migrants squeezed into a gymnasium at the outdoor sports complex amid a steady downpour Thursday night. The complex was covered with mud from the storm. On Friday, rain was intermittent with breaks in the clouds.
Some migrants had found work near the sports complex and were unsure about moving to a place they did not know, though it meant they would have a roof over their heads.
Authorities and residents in Tijuana are concerned the migrants might try to make another mass rush across the border. Their first attempt last weekend led to a brief closure of border crossings that Tijuana residents use to reach jobs and shopping on the U.S. side.
The new shelter is a former outdoor concert venue with walls and buildings on all four sides to create a single entry and exit. Federal authorities leased the compound from a private owner.
Mario Figueroa, Tijuana’s social development director, said the shelter could accommodate more than 10,000 people, most of them on the outdoor concrete courtyard where audiences listened to bands before the venue closed.
About 1,500 migrants had arrived by midafternoon and everyone at the old shelter was expected to be transferred by the end of the day, Figueroa said.
Families and children are priorities for covered areas, Figueroa said.
A room that was once used for parties can accommodate about 500 families, he said.
The floors are all concrete, which will prevent the ground turning to mud as it did in the previous shelter.
Franklin Sasa, a 20-year-old bus dispatcher from Honduras who hopes to seek asylum in the United States, said the previous shelter was a disaster.
“The conditions are better,” he said near a line of men waiting for a haircut at the new shelter. “There’s no mud.”
Meanwhile, several migrants swam around or climbed over the border barrier overnight and were detained by U.S. officials.
Six men and one woman jumped or slipped over the border barrier in Tijuana and were quickly detained by customs and border protection agents.
One Honduran man tried to swim to the U.S. side but quickly got in trouble in the rough waters of the Pacific. A Mexican rescue team forcibly pulled him ashore and put him into an ambulance.