Tijuana police prepare to move homeless from riverbed

Drainage canal to be cleared of all debris, bushes, and garbage

Anyone who has crossed the pedestrian bridge over the Tijuana River next to the newly constructed El Chaparral border station in the past several months has noticed that hundreds of people are living in the cement canal, known locally as el bordo.

The riverbed has been home to the homeless for decades, even prior to its concrete incarnation, back when cottonwood trees and cattail reeds were its primary ecology, along with the cardboard shacks and free-range chickens. Now, dunes of downflow debris and detritus have heaped up at the delta that feeds into the United States at the border. Among those sandy dunes live the most disenfranchised of immigrants.

Composed mainly of the cohort of 30,000 persons deported to TJ from the United States during this year, the group includes many of the 8000 U.S. ex-convicts dumped into the city, many of whom are addicted to drugs. Crowds of homeless gather on the levee roads beneath the bridge on either side of the canal, begging for quarters and pesos from the pedestrians passing overhead.

One tends to walk in the middle of the bridge in order to not have to observe the painful sight too closely. Some of the more brazen scale the sides of the bridge and approach passersby with a more aggressive panhandling style. Some rant and shout for money from the canal’s depths, at the center of the bridge, where tossing them a peso would be akin to pegging home-plate with a throw from the back wall of center field.

In the next few days, Tijuana police (aided with 39 million pesos granted by the Mexican federal government) intend to clear out the canal and relocate the current crop of homeless. During the past few weeks, police have dropped by the makeshift shacks and huts that have sprung up along the river bend at the border, warning the homeless living there that a change is coming soon.

The federal money will assist the city in relocating the homeless to areas where their needs can be met more adequately. Some might be transported back to their place of origin, with the hope that distance from the border will discourage attempts to re-cross again. Many who continually try to re-enter the U.S. are victimized by the “people traffickers,” the so-called coyotes and criminal gangs who prey upon them with kidnappings, robberies, and the like.

Tijuana police chief Jesús Alberto Capella Ibarra reported to Frontera that there is an order from the federal government to clean out the riverbed of arbustos y basura (bushes and garbage).

Patrick Murphy, director of Casa del Migrante Scalabrini, a shelter serving the deported and homeless, was quoted as saying, “Many have problems that need an integrated approach, and to just take people out of the canal area without a plan is liable to be even more abusive towards them since the riverbed is their home.”

Sources: Frontera, La Segunda

UPDATE: August 6, 2:20 p.m. Authorities removed 100 or so people living in the riverbed of the TJ river on August 5. I walked over the bridge in the afternoon and there were maybe 6 people left, wandering around on the levee road. The huts and shacks were still there, but most were stripped of decorative accoutrement.

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Read in later reports that many of the "detained" have refused relocation. Also, that some of them were gringos.

Need to keep in mind that many of these folks are professional criminals -- the kind that rob you at knifepoint in broad daylight to feed their drug habits. Agree something needs to be done for them, but there is a public safety aspect to this as well. We're not talking about innocents here.

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