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Homeless Deportees in Tijuana

Photographer: David Maung

 

In recent years Mexican cities along the US-Mexico border, such as Tijuana, have seen a dramatic rise in the number of people living homeless, of which a majority are deportees from the United States. Heightened border security and record numbers of deportations from the US have contributed significantly to the growing population of homeless.

 

Many had lived undocumented for decades in the US maintaining jobs and raising families only to find themselves deported to a country they don’t know and in some cases where they don’t speak the language. With little or no family support in Mexico and often scorned by border residents, many homeless fall into depression, substance abuse and crime, stuck at the border with no real possibility of returning to the US or traveling south to other parts of Mexico.

 

In the past few years the Tijuana River canal has become a popular spot for these people to live in makeshift encampments and foxhole hideaways dug into the sediment. They clean cars and beg in the nearby line of vehicles cued up for hours to enter the United States. Small-time drug dealers and other criminals have also moved into the canal and the police frequently enter the area to shake down homeless and burn their dwellings.

 

In response to the problem a number of churches provide shelter, food and spiritual support. The Desayunador Salesiano Padre Chava, a feeding center run by the Catholic Missionaries of San Juan Bosco, provides 1,200 breakfasts each day for homeless people. Others, such as the Christian non-profit organization La Roca del Alfarero, houses more than 100 people each night. The city of Tijuana has recently begun a project to address the issue that will develop outreach and community centers for homeless deportees. The centers will seek to direct people to rehabilitation centers, coordinate shelters and feeding as well as facilitate deportees to travel south.

 

However, because distrust in the police and authorities is so high, the city is confronting major hurtles in improving its image and gaining trust of the homeless and the organizations that help them.