TIJUANA, Mexico – Migrants in a caravan of Central Americans arrived in Tijuana by the hundreds Wednesday, getting their first glimpse of the robust U.S. military presence that awaits them after President Donald Trump ordered thousands of troops to the border.
Several hundred people from the caravan got off buses and made their way to a shelter on the Mexican side near the border to line up for food. Doctors checked those fighting colds and other ailments while several dozen migrants, mostly single men, spent the night at a Tijuana beach that is cut by a towering border wall of metal bars.
Several Border Patrol agents in San Diego watched through the barrier separating the U.S. and Mexico. American troops carrying machine guns stood near the agents next to recently installed concertina wire atop a stretch of the barrier.
The first wave of migrants in the caravan, which became a central theme of the recent U.S. election, began arriving in Tijuana in recent days, and their numbers have grown each day. The bulk of the main caravan appeared to be about 1,100 miles from the border, but has recently been moving hundreds of miles a day by hitching rides on trucks and buses.
Many of the new arrivals were waiting in Tijuana to make their next step to enter in the U.S., either by illegally crossing the border or by seeking asylum at a port of entry.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, meanwhile, visited U.S. troops posted at the border in Texas and said the deployment provides good training for war, despite criticism that the effort is a waste of taxpayer money and a political stunt. Most of the troops are in Texas, more than 1,500 miles from where the caravan is arriving.
The first arrivals generally received a warm welcome from Tijuana, despite the fact that its shelter system to house migrants is at capacity. The city's secretary of economic development has said there are about 3,000 jobs for migrants who want to stay in the city. Some residents came down to where the men were camped on a beach and gave them tacos to eat Wednesday.
The Central Americans in the caravan are the latest migrants to arrive in Tijuana with the hope of crossing into the United States. Tijuana shelters in 2016 housed Haitians who came by the thousands after making their way from Brazil with plans to get to the U.S.
Since then, several thousand Haitians have remained in Tijuana, finding work. Some have married local residents and enrolled in local universities.
“Mexico has been excellent; we have no complaint about Mexico. The United States remains to be seen,” said Josue Vargas, a migrant from Honduras who finally pulled into Tijuana on Wednesday after more than a month on the road.
A few people pitched tents at the Tijuana beach plaza while most, like Henry Salinas, 30, of Honduras planned to sleep there in the open.
He said he intended to wait for thousands more in the caravan to arrive and that he hoped to jump the fence in a large group at the same time, overwhelming Border Patrol agents.
“It's going to be all against one, one against all. All of Central America against one, and one against Central America. ... All against Trump, and Trump against all,” he said.