In Tijuana’s Zona Norte, the north end of Avenida Lucrecia Toriz has been sealed up with a concrete cinder block wall. The effect is abrupt, a rude interruption, creating a dead space piled with trash where street dogs gather to pick through the ruins.
In fact, lots of streets facing north have been blocked off–some with hastily built corrugated steel panels pushing against exposed tree roots & hardened clay, others made of concrete. Some are crumbling mounds, others obsessively neat. One corner, “rehabilitated” by the city’s anti-graffiti program, is neatly painted and adorned with an enormous message admonishing residents to “Take care of it!”
Sealed out of the city, homeless migrant Victor Rivera just keeps walking. Recently deported after working fourteen years building and repairing yachts Victorville, California, Rivera believes the city of Tijuana has sealed up the ends of the streets to keep people like him from entering the city.
“As long as you stay outside the walls, you are ok,” says Rivera. But inside Tijuana, police harass migrants, stopping them, asking for papers, and treating them like pariahs. The speeding traffic along Avenida Internacional makes it difficult for police to detain migrants, and so they find refuge in this harsh environment. “You have to keep walking and walking.”
Originally from Guadalajara, Rivera sought work with a yacht company in Victorville whose owner was married to a woman who was also from Guadalajara. The binational family connection created a natural path of migration, and hundreds of workers from Guadalajara came to work in Victorville. Rivera was eventually caught up in an ICE raid on the company, and was deported along with dozens of other workers. In 2011, the Obama Administration enjoyed a record year, deporting nearly 400,000 people. (In October 2011, ICE announced there were 396,906 removals in Fiscal Year 2011). And in contrast to the administration’s claim to focus only on deporting violent criminals, the statistics show that the vast majority were innocent, productive workers like Victor Rivera.
For Rivera, the biggest shock is the hatred and misunderstanding he feels in Tijuana. In comparison to the discrimination against Mexican workers in Orange County, Rivera says “the consciousness of people of my own nation is no better.” Deported migrants are “invisible people and nobody wants them.”
Indeed, along the border wall nearby, someone has inscribed a threatening message in enormous white letters: “Todo vago sera reclutado o ejecutado” — All “vagos” will be recruited or executed.
Rivera’s family still lives in Guadalajara, and he’s desperate to get back there now. But with no money, no job, and no connections in Tijuana, it is hard to say how he will manage that.