These portraits were taken in Tijuana, Mexico over a period of three weeks, while covering the Migrant Caravan that arrived there in November/December 2018.
The caravan had left from Honduras in mid October and was made up of mostly Hondurans but people from Guatemala also joined along the way. At it’s peak it was estimated that about 6,000 migrants were traveling in this particular caravan.
My hope is that by documenting individual’s stories, it will help to humanize the masses and create a greater understanding as to why and what migrants are fleeing.
Karin (5) is wearing one of the Christmas gifts that was donated to the shelter that she is staying at in Tijuana while her family waits their turn to file for asylum. She is lit by a flashlight her father is holding because the electricity at the shelter went out and no one ever came to fix it during the two weeks that I was there. All the lovely donations that Karin gets to enjoy at the shelter will have to be left behind once she enters U.S. immigration. Migrants are only allowed to bring the clothes on their backs once they enter ICE detention.
Misael (19) told me that as a kid his passion was playing soccer. He played all the time and aspired to play professionally. But once he became a teenager local gangs would approach him while he was practicing outside and force him to run ‘errands’ for them, threatening death if he didn’t do it. Misael eventually stopped leaving his house, not wanting to do dirty work for the gangs and fearing retribution. He tried moving to a different town and living with his aunt but the same thing started happening. The gangs wanted to recruit him to do their bidding, so he secluded himself indoors again. He said he left Honduras because, “you can’t live a life like that, always locked inside”. He hopes to find legal work in the US and send money home.
Karen & Brytanni
Karen (22) and her daughter Brytanni (6) traveled for six weeks with her brother and friends that they met in the caravan to reach the US border in Tijuana. Karen left her younger daughter, who is three, with her mother in Honduras which she said was very hard to do. In Honduras karen worked in a restaurant but said that after having to pay inflated government taxes and ‘impuestos’ to cartel members (a tax that local gangs put on businesses and everyday workers who work in ‘their’ territories), she didn’t have enough money left over for her family to survive on. Karen has family in LA that she hopes to stay with and wants to work to send money home to her mother and youngest daughter.
Six of David’s family members have been killed because he was part of a group organizing against police corruption in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. His mother, three siblings, and two cousins were all murdered. When I met David he was one of the volunteers helping to organize and coordinate the list for migrants waiting their turn to file for asylum in the United States. His family’s number finally came up on the list as well. The Claros are currently in the U.S. staying with family while they work through the legal process of filing for asylum.
Daniel (15) traveled by himself and joined the caravan to escape local gang recruitment in Guatemala. In Tijuana he found one of the better private shelters to stay at (better security, but still in a bad neighborhood). Most people who stayed there had to pay 30 pesos a day, but Daniel said that the pastor who ran it liked him and let help with the daily cleaning of the shelter in exchange for staying there for free.
Ariene (12 years old, in the center of the photo) was given an ultimatum by the gangs in her town in Honduras to either join the gang and work for them (most likely as a prostitute) or else she and her entire family would be killed. Ariene and her family were given a week to decide their fate, but instead they packed up and joined the Caravan. Her Aunt and cousin joined as well since Ariene’s cousin will likely be given a similar ultimatum when she turns 12 as well. The gangs generally confiscate the family’s home and all their possessions that are left behind once they leave.
Alex (25) has a three year old daughter that he had to leave behind in Honduras. He says that he feels like crying whenever he thinks of her, especially spending Christmas without her. Alex is one of the lucky ones who was able to get a work visa for Mexico. He said he plans to stay in Tijuana to work and send money home to his family in Honduras.
The Diaz Family
Silvia (holding the donated coats for her kids in the pic), had her family’s land stolen by cartel members when gold was discovered on it. Two of her brothers were killed in the process. She suspects that the police were in on it too because they tried to hide the body of her second brother who had gone missing. She was able to escape an attack on her family but the cartel has promised to find them and “Finish off the whole family”. The Diaz family tried to hideout in a town in Southern Mexico, but one day Silvia saw cartel members waiting for her children outside of their school. That day they were able to escaped through a back route, but she took her kids out of school after that because she was afraid that the cartel would find them again. When the caravan passed close to their town, they were happy to have a safer way to travel and escape the cartels. Silvia has family in Seattle that they plan to stay while while waiting for their asylum claims to be processed through the legal system.
Rosa & Jose
Rosa (28) was part of the LGBT contingent that traveled together in the Caravan for safety. A generous donor helped rent an Airbnb house for her and other members of the group once they were in Tijuana so that they wouldn’t have to suffer harassment in the migrant shelters. Being LGTB is still not socially acceptable in Honduras and violent attacks against LGTB individuals is rampant. This photo of Rosa and her four year old son was taken right as their number had finally been called (after 5 weeks of waiting), and they were about to enter into US immigration to file for asylum. Fearing that her son could be separated from her, Rosa made sure that he had all the important contacts written on the outside of his clothing.
Kevin & Erick
Kevin (25) and Erick (23) met online and have been together for over two years now. Kevin is from Guatemala and Erick from Honduras. They both have experienced severe harassment for being gay. Erick suffered a concussion from being hit in the head with a brick in an anti-gay attack, Kevin was arrested and tortured by police in prison, and the list of harassment could go on. They told me that they don’t feel safe to leave the house and live an open life in Guatemala (where they were living together before they joined the caravan). They traveled together in the LGTB contingent of the caravan and were able to stay in a safe house in Tijuana that was donated by Airbnb so that they wouldn’t have to suffer harassment from other migrants or the local community. While waiting the 5 weeks for their asylum numbers to be called, they decided to get married in Tijuana. Same-sex marriage is legal in Mexico but was not legal in their countries of origin when they left to join the caravan in Oct. 2018. Besides the wonderful celebration that the marriage was, they also hope that being married will help their chances of being able to stay together during the asylum process. This photo was taken moments before they were about to enter into US immigration on the 23rd of December. The couple has a sponsor waiting to receive them in San Francisco, but they have not been released to their sponsor yet and have been held in ICE custody since the end of December 2018.
Olvin (21), from Honduras, would give haircuts and shaves to other migrants at the temporary shelter in Tijuana. He charged $20 pesos (about $1 US), or whatever people could afford. He didn’t really want to go into why he left Honduras but he told me that he had friends in New York that he wanted to join and work as a professional barber there. Olvin never said anything about being threatened or marginalized, but I felt that if he did make it to NYC he may have an opportunity to be more fully himself and live a more open life.
Fredy & Ester
Fredy (21) and Ester (17, pictured in the photo above Fredy with their daughter as well). Fredy is the younger brother of Silvia Diaz (pictured with her family above with cupcakes). His family’s land was stolen when gold was discovered on it and two of his brothers murdered by the gangs in the process in Honduras. The gang has said that they want to murder his whole family. His intention is to file for asylum in the US but he is currently being held at an undisclosed detention facility in the US for the supposed crime of being married to a minor (Ester). His siblings in the US (who were going to sponsor him) are having trouble contacting him and finding where he is being held. They have told me that Ester is being held in a separate facility for minors and people at the facility are trying to get her to sign away any parental rights Fredy may have for his daughter. His sister tells me that Ester just cries all day and is extremely depressed since they have been forcibly separated.
Enrique (not real name) left Honduras to escape gang violence and look for better economic opportunities. He was one of the first from the October caravan to arrive in Tijuana on November 14th. He told me that a friend he had been traveling with was rushed to the hospital the night they arrived because they found him lying unconscious and motionless at 4am. Enrique said that they had gone three days without food on the last leg of the journey and he thinks that sleeping outside on concrete in the cold of the Tijuana’s dessert nights caused his friend to get hypothermia. Enrique didn’t know if his friend was going to make it or not. If the friend did survive, it was likely that he would get immediately deported back to Honduras once in the custody of the state. Enrique also told me other horrors of the journey that they had made, including a story about three truckloads of migrants who had hitched rides on the trucks that stopped for them but then were never seen again at the other juntas ‘meeting points’ along the way. Many people were looking for their friends that had disappeared. Enrique estimated that 500 migrants had been sequestered or ‘disappeared’ during the journey that he was aware of. When I asked what he thought happened to them he said they were probably either killed or trafficked for organs, sex etc. I asked a local Tijuana journalist if he thought that this was possible and he told me that yes it was very possible. My journalist friend told me, “In Mexico you can usually assume the worst”.
Karin showing off another donated Christmas present at a make-shift migrant shelter in Tijuana as she and her family wait for their chance to file for asylum.
Standing Rock: Prayer and Resistance
These images were taken while I was staying at the Oceti Sakowin camp in Standing Rock, ND in November and December of 2016. Members from over three-hundred different tribes had gathered at the camps, along with non-native allies and a large veteran presence, for peaceful and prayerful resistance against the construction Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
The pipeline is meant to carry fracked Tar Sands oil from Canada to refineries in Illinois. It was being built without the Sioux Nations’ permission and it's construction destroyed many of their sacred sites and burial sites. The DAPL runs under Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri river, which is the major water source for the tribe as well as 17 million other people who live downstream from where the pipeline crosses the river. The Sioux Nation, along with many other supporters, feel that it is not a matter of if the pipeline will leak but a matter of when it will leak and contaminate the drinking water of 17 million people and their surrounding environment. Therefor the prayerful resistance was born to protect the water and the land.
The Caravan: Tension in Tijuana
I documented the large Central American caravan (an estimated 5,000-6,000 people) that arrived in Tijuana last November-December, 2018. Most of the migrants are fleeing violence, gang recruitment, and government corruption in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They hoped to file for political asylum in the US.
Along with photographing the migrants’ struggles, this work also documents the tensions that grew in the local Tijuana community - as well as within the police force and border patrol agents there - that resulted from such a large caravan arriving in their border town.
A US Customs and Border Protection agent stands guard on the Mexican side of the San Ysidro Port of Entry into the United States. Security was stepped up after a caravan of an estimated 6,000 migrants, mostly from Honduras and Guatemala, arrived in Tijuana last November with hopes of filing for asylum in the US. Along with an increased number of personnel guarding the border, barricades with massive amounts of concertina wire were erected for extra security. Police in riot gear stand guard in the background as fears of migrants rushing the border were heightened during this time.
Bus loads of migrants, who were part of a large caravan starting in Honduras, finally arrive at the border in Tijuana, MX with the hopes of being able to file for asylum in the US. Most migrants took an average of 6-8 weeks to travel to the US/Mexico border from Honduras. Their means of travel incorporated walking, hitch-hiking and, when lucky, they were supplied buses by local officials. It is arguable whether local Mexican officials were helping out the migrants or whether they were eager to see them move on to the next state.
A Honduran migrant walks the last stretch of the journey from Mexicali to Tijuana with hopes of hitching a ride. As anti-migrant sentiments began to grow in Mexico in response to the caravan, many Central American migrants would hold up Mexican flags as a peace offering to show that they were grateful to Mexicans for their hospitality.
US workers add additional reinforcement and barbed wire to the wall along the Tijuana/US border in anticipation of the arrival of a large caravan from Central America in November, 2018.
Trump deployed 5,900 troops along the US/Mexico border last November and December to combat the surge in migration and further secure the border wall in anticipation of the caravan's arrival.
A Honduran woman is locked inside a make-shift shelter to protect her from an aggressive anti-migrant/pro-nationalist march that was taking place just past the police barricade down the block from her in Tijuana.
Keeping an Eye on the Nationalists
Tijuana Police form a baracade to block an anti-immigrant/pro-nationalist march from reaching a local shelter that was housing the majority of the Central American Caravan in Tijuana while they waited to file for asylum.
A local Tijuana resident joins in a pro-nationalist/anti-immigrant march as tensions rise between locals and the migrant caravan. One of the organizers of the protest has the Facebook name ‘Paloma for Trump’, and many of the signs at the protest seemed to echo Trump rhetoric with the phrases like ‘Mexico First’ and ‘No to the Invasion’.
Local Tijuana police arrest a Honduran migrant for reportedly disposing of trash in the street. Once in police custody migrants are usually deported back to their home country.
In early November 2018 a press conference was held with the mayor of Tijuana Juan Manuel Gastelum Buenrostro in regards to the arrival of the large migrant caravan. Many of the questions from local media asked why the local government officials had not done more to prepare for the caravan’s arrival when they knew it was coming. Where had all the aid that had been given to the city by the federal government gone? Why were the migrants being treated so poorly by local police? Why were they living in such unsanitary conditions in the shelters? During the press conference Mayor Buenrostro was quoted as saying “Derechos Humanos son para humanos derechos”, insinuating that human right are only for those who act ‘right’.
A Helping Hand or Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?
Omar (13) joined the caravan to escape forced gang recruitment in Honduras. The pizza and soda Omar was receiving outside of the Benito Juarez migrant shelter this night was being supplied by a local soccer club that is sponsored by one of Tijuana’s drug cartels. The soccer club fed many hungry migrants outside the shelter which was located in a neighborhood also run by the local cartel.
Ham and Cheese
Two good cemeritans came down to Tijuana from San Diego to pass out bags of handmade ham and cheese sandwiches to hungry migrants in the caravan. Many volunteers, both Mexican and American, would pull up outside the migrant shelter in Tijuana and pass out offerings of homemade food to the hungry caravan members.
A Central American migrant helps to give clean shaves and haircuts to other migrants at the shelter to make a few extra pesos to live off of while they wait to file for asylum.
Life in the Shelter
Twelve-year old Ashleen makes bracelets out of colorful rubber bands to sell on the street for money while her family waits their turn to file for asylum. Tents were donated to the shelter that she and her family were staying in after a previous shelter had been flooded by torrential rains. This shelter was located in one of the more dangerous cartel run neighborhoods in Tijuana. Many migrants were afraid to spend time out on the streets surrounding the shelter for fear of harassment or violent retaliation from the local cartels who were unhappy that the shelter was in their territory. Some young women reported being given the ultimatum to work as prostitues for the cartels or have their bodies ‘ripped to pieces’ if they refused.
A young Guatemalan man shows off the scars where he was hacked at with a machete by a local drug cartel member. He was attacked at work because his boss did not have the money to pay the ‘impuestos’ (fees) that the gang was charging his mechanic shop to operate in ‘their’ territory.
Waiting to File for Asylum
Migrants form a line to have their names added to a 'waitlist' to file for asylum. They are given a small slip of paper with a number on it and told by volunteers to check back in two weeks to see what numbers are being called. Most migrants I spoke with waited four weeks or more before their numbers were called. Once called, they are taken into US immigration custody and given 'credible fear' interviews to see if they had a believable reason to file for asylum. That is just the beginning of the asylum process, which can take up anywhere from 6 months to 4 years before they receive a final verdict on if they will be granted asylum or not.
Migrants who want to file for asylum at the legal port of entry in Tijuana are given a ‘waitlist’ number by local volunteers. Even though asylum seekers should legally be taken into ICE custody immideately when they present themselves at a port of entry, new Trump Administration regulations slowed down the process by only allowing 10-30 people file for asylum a day. Most migrants have to wait 4-8 weeks for their number to be called and often do not have any money to live off of while they are waiting their turn.
Going For It
Some migrants choose not to wait for their numbers to be called, or often don't have the resources to wait, so they take the risk and try crossing other ways. These migrants found a spot where there was a gap in the border wall as old corrugated metal was being torn down and the new beam wall was being constructed. A perfect opportunity to cross into US territory. They were soon discovered by border patrol and asked to file for asylum when picked up.
A young Honduran boy waits patiently as his mother searches for any possible place to get through the border wall and into the US.
A group of young asylum seekers crossed into US territory with their arms raised repeating the phrase "asilo, aslio". The border patrol agent drew his gun and yelled at them to get back on to Mexican territory. He changed his tune once he noticed that he was being documented and let the men go into ICE custody.