Children sleep on the floor inside tents at a temporary camp near a Mexican border crossing to the United States, with little protection from heat or cold. They do not attend school. Some of the children were born in the United States.
Mexican authorities have warned of the treacherous conditions endured by youngsters, who are frequently accompanied by parents or relatives on the perilous journey across Mexico because people smugglers claim that having a minor makes it easier to enter the United States.
According to a recent census conducted by the municipal administration in Tijuana, 40 percent of the 769 people residing at the camp near El Chaparral, a crossing that remains blocked even after the border was reopened to non-essential traffic, were kids.
Reuters spoke to over 20 migrant youngsters within the fenced-in and police-controlled camp, four of whom had certificates proving they were born in the United States.
All of the children were born in the United States and stated they left when their undocumented parents were deported, traveling back through Mexico as the adults attempted to return to the United States.
One of them, a girl called Evelyn, whose Mexican mother showed a birth certificate stating she was born in Los Angeles, said: “I just want everything to be okay, for my mom to have a home. I want to go to the United States, but with my mom.”
“My sister and I have (U.S.) papers but when my dad had to come here, my mom brought all of us,” said Evelyn, 10. “She cries a lot because they don’t have money to feed us.”
The U.S.-born children do not necessarily have to suffer the hardships of migrant life to try to enter the United States.
They automatically acquire citizenship at birth but all of the U.S.-born children or their parents in the camp that Reuters spoke to said they did not want to be separated from their families, and so they left the United States together and aim to return together.
As illegal immigration leapt in 2021, more than 39,000 undocumented foreign children had been registered by Mexico’s Unit for Migration Policy, Registry and Identity of Persons through September, an increase of 377% from 2020.
Sitting on asphalt near the camp, Josue, a recently arrived 7-year-old Honduran boy, said his dream was to become a doctor in the United States because he did not like to see people die.
Recalling the hunger, cold and exhaustion he faced on the trek with his father, Josue recounted survival skills he had acquired en route, such as riding a Mexican freight train known as “The Beast”, which migrants often jump on to travel north.
He also learned how to yell at police trying to detain him, and to be strong and not cry when he missed his mother.
“(In Honduras), they pointed a gun at my dad, they wanted to kill him, that’s why we came,” he said.
Under pressure from the United States to stem migration, Mexico has urged people not to attempt the journey, but recently announced humanitarian visas for children and pregnant women traveling from southern Mexico in a migrant caravan.
Full of families with young children, according to Reuters witnesses, the caravan halted at one point because dozens of women and children were too worn out to walk.
Pedro a 15-year-old migrant, also had a birth certificate showing he was born in Los Angeles, and said his four brothers were too. His mother brought them back to her native Mexico three months ago when his father was deported.
He now cleans cars in Tijuana using a small rag, earning whatever people are willing to give. “I’ve never worked before, but I’m doing it to help my mom,” he said.
Some small children seemed unaware of the hardship of the camp, running around laughing in donated superhero costumes.
“I’m Superman!” yelled a young boy with a heat rash breaking out across his sun-scorched face.