Migrants arriving on US streets share joy, woes amid border strains: Reporter’s notebook


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The migrants cite a myriad of reasons for coming to the U.S.

SAN DIEGO — The heart of America’s immigration debate is, on this Wednesday morning in September, centered on an unremarkable parking lot adjacent to some bus stops in Southern California, just a stone’s throw from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Shortly after 7:00 a.m., one gray bus pulls up and stops. Another soon follows. Then another and another. Each time, the couple dozen people on board each one step off and take a look around.

Some look bewildered. Some laugh and smile. Some sit on the curb and cry.

For each, this is their first moment of relative freedom on U.S. soil. They are migrants from Ecuador and Brazil and Afghanistan and China and Colombia and Turkey and their pilgrimage to the so-called American dream has ended at the Iris Avenue Transportation Center in San Diego, California.

These are some of the thousands of migrants who have been processed, vetted, and sometimes dropped off at nearby transit centers and shelters.

But there’s not always enough capacity at shelters to house everyone that arrives while their cases are adjudicated, with some migrants looking at court dates years down the road.

“I’m so happy because I’m here,” one Colombian migrant told me, fighting back tears. So why cry? “My mom told me I had to come here. But I had to leave her behind to do it. That’s incredibly hard.”

Each migrant has an individual story for why they came here. Put the stories together and the most common words are economy, inflation, violence, crime, better life.

They mill about, speaking to some local non-profits who offer some advice on how to get transportation to their final destinations in the country. There are phone chargers laid out on tables and a Wi-Fi hotspot for people to connect to.

More than one migrant asks me how to get a taxi to the airport and if I can throw some money toward the ride. Another tells me she’s beyond excited to reunite with her sister in Minneapolis. A man from Istanbul asks me for a cigarette.

They all arrived at the border two days ago and had no idea they were being released into the U.S. until moments before it happened.

This is the on-the-ground reality of what is now the new normal all along the U.S. southwest border.

Thousands of migrants, the vast majority of whom are kind, decent people fleeing bad places in search of something good, arrive at the border in such numbers that the system cannot process them in any way that makes sense.

Arrive at the border, get detained. An official runs a background check and if you don’t get deported right away, chances are you’ll get let out.

They’ll find taxis or buses or planes and head to other parts of the country and hundreds of thousands more migrants will follow them in the months and years to come.

“The whole system is inhumane not only for the migrants being dropped off because they don’t know what to do or how to use our transportation system but for the people that live in this neighborhood,” San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond told me. “This isn’t a political situation. This is not a left or right issue. This is an immigration system that has failed.”

Desmond speaks with the kind of practicality of a politician that doesn’t have the luxury of sticking to a party line. Lots of people at the border are like this.

They fundamentally understand the motive of the migrant is to seek out a better life and they sympathize deeply with that. But they also confront the challenges of seeing their communities overwhelmed by the influx without the resources to deal with it.



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