Translated by Fulano from an article in El Mexicano.
TIJUANA – “Now it is not the narcos, it is the vigilante groups that now threaten us,” she says almost shaking. Terror overcomes Ofelia.
She came to Baja California because the so-called community self-defense groups that are battling the Knights Templar Cartel in Michoacán, outweigh even the authorities.
Like her, there are more than 80 families in Tijuana, who have left the Tierra Caliente area of their state because men and women where forced to leave their homes and take up arms, because mothers live in the uncertainty that their children older than 15 years will be “enlisted” to defend the territory and battle that Cartel.
“We came because of that. We live in fear!” raising her almost broken voice as an act of protest.
Many like Ofelia and her family arrived with signed and sealed letters from administrators in her homeland, hoping to find political asylum in the United States, but not all are lucky.
BETWEEN GRENADES AND BULLETS
“Boom! that is how it sounds when the grenades thunder,” said little Saúl while open his eyes wide.
“And the machine guns are next but very loud, traca, traca, traca!”
Only ten years old, and he no longer goes to school. Because of the insecurity in Tepaltepec, he stopped going. What he does know is how to distinguish between bullets and grenades, because that he learned from early childhood in Michoacán.
He is Ofelia’s son. His neighbors were witnesses when in early January, at 9PM at night, self-defense groups broke into their house.
“There were seven pick-up trucks, they were well armed, they started yelling at my husband that he was an asshole, and why would he not join with the self defense groups,” the woman sobbed while holding in her hands a few photographs of her humble home.
The humble brick home was destroyed. They vandalized it because they would not join the self-defense group.
Neither begging them, nor the money which they gave them often, because they were forced to, so they could buy gasoline, saved them, she said.
They sold the refrigerator, bed, fan, everything of value, borrowed money and fled their own home, “all because of the self-defense forces.”
“When we came to Tijuana, we were scared, even my husband and he more so, for me it was amazing and it sounds amazing, but it’s true,” she bemoans.
“We were also tired of hearing the grenades or the bullets, and then a 20 minute gun battle where we lived, we heard it, but very loudly,” she recalls as she closes her eyes and takes on a look of disgust and sadness and describes it as a nightmare.
The people of Michoacán have lived like that for a year and say the community police have been gradually strengthening. They are said to have initially been created as a defense, but now breathe fear into the people.
These groups have grown so much that even on the Internet some of its members have become famous, as in the case of “Commander Bonita,” a woman who went from a fashion manager to a self-defense group leader because she was tired of the crime.
Or as in the case of “Papa Smurf,” a man who went from being a doctor to carrying a pistol in defense of his land.
In Michoacán, says the woman who wants no part of the self-defense groups, we must flee and it is most unfortunate that many do not have money, because work was cut back as a result of the violence.
THERE IS NO POLITICAL ASYLUM IN THE UNITED STATES
They did not come to Tijuana with empty hands. In addition to clothes, they brought a letter signed by the government of Michoacán.
It says: “The family [name] originally from and residents of Tepaltepec since 24 February, the inhabitants of this town, as well as the municipalities of Buena Vista, Coalcoman and Aquililla are being threatened with death by organized crime, as there is a wave of violence and crime in both their homelands and on the highways, and so far the situation has not improved. As such, we strongly recommend you provide the support and protection they ask for as they have now decided to leave their homes while the danger in their state persists.”
The letter is signed by the Chief Property Registrar, Ramon Contreras Orozco. It is dated January 20 and has the seal of Buena Vista Municipality, amid the golden eagle and the words “United Mexican States.”
Ofelia, her son and her husband arrived at the San Ysidro International Border with that paper, it was their hope to get political asylum, but ended up only with hope.
They approached the agents from Customs and Border Protection.
They said they gave them the letter, but the United States Department of Homeland Security gave an pleasant response.
“We were told that there was no political asylum, it was a lie, and they asked who had told us there was, and we only told them the truth, which is we were afraid of being killed back where we were from,” says Ofelia .
“So we brought along a phone that they never gave back to my son, it had a recording of the hand grenades,” and also showed a newspaper page from his native Michoacán that says in large letters, ” Apatzingan in flames, city hall burned during gunfire.”
But this was to no avail, they returned us to Tijuana and we were only given a paper with a photo of little Saul, and on the back it says, “Withdrawal of Application /Consular Notification”. They had no luck.
VIOLENCE SEPARATES FAMILIES AND TIJUANA RECEIVES THEM
Esmeralda Siu, coordinator of the Coalition for Defense of Migrants, said this phenomenon started last year due to the conflict between various criminal groups in “Tierra Caliente” .
“Many people started migrating because of the violence and drug trafficking, whole families come to Tijuana to get political asylum in the U.S., but not everyone qualifies, and in the process applied under international laws of refuge and asylum, they must demonstrate a well-founded fear that there was a direct threat, not just a general threat to the community,” she explains.
She regretted that there are about 400 families in the United States being held in the process of being eligible for asylum, and the majority are women and children.
She explains that the coalition she heads has noticed a considerable increase in the population at the Casa del Migrante and that there are many women’s husbands in the Mother Assunta Migrant Home.
Then she mentions that “there is a very high number who have applied, but have not qualified and are then deported, but many women are waiting for their husband to leave, if they do not apply.”
This is the case of Lupita, which is what we call her, who says she is not in homeland and fears for her safety.
She arrived at the Mother Assunta Migrant Home in colonia Postal a few days ago with her three children.
She had asked for political asylum, but she says she was denied immediately. It was different for her husband, he has been detained.
“Well now I don’t know what will happen, they told us only ‘no,’ we are here we’ll see what happens.”
For this reason, the head of the Coalition for Defense of Migrants stresses that this is a problem that is starting to worry migrant support groups, “we are concerned that the criteria used by authorities in the United States in order to be classified as having a viable asylum request is causing the separation of families.”
Many mothers are fleeing violence, and when they reach the border, U.S. authorities separate them,” it is somewhat shocking so we are working with these issues.”
The problem, says the activist, is exacerbated by the treatment from U.S. federal agents.
“We are told that their minor children are treated like adults, they are handcuffed and separated from them once you do not qualify. They separated from the husbands who are in the well-known application process,” she says .
Meanwhile, Lupita is waiting for her husband. It has been several days since she has seen him. She knows nothing about his fate.
In an interview with EL MEXICANO, she says she does not know what to do, but she is sure she will not return to Michoacán.
“They threatened us and I do not wish that on anyone, they came and broke the windows,” she said.
As if it were a movie about the Old West, she talks of the reality experienced by the residents of Aquililla, and for that reason they came to Tijuana.
“They just come and grab people and if they do not want to join with the community police, they kill them or force them to join,” says Lupita, just 24 years old.
When thinking about their children, she claims that over there when they are 12 they are forced to be part of the Self-Defense Groups .
Just in her community, she says, there are about 100 families who left, hoping for help from the U.S. government, “and the worse is that there are some who are not allowed to even get their clothes, and they tell them they have only two hours.”
“I don’t know, but I think I’ll stay here in this town, in Tijuana, I won’t go back there,” she sighs.
Meanwhile at the Casa del Migrante in this city, more citizens continue to arrive who are fleeing the Community Police .
“People are still fleeing, for us it is something new and we don’t know how we are going to end up,” said Father Pat Murphy, who heads the place which helps migrants.
The corridors of the shelter echo the stories of those who experienced moments of terror in their Southern Mexican communities.
“People are still fleeing in search of peace ( … ) they are concerned for their children, they are asking for money to shop, their homes and land were taken, and it is a forced migration. For this reason they arrive with their letters from their governments,” Murphy bemoans.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO REGULARIZE THE SELF-DEFENSE GROUPS
On Tuesday, January 28 it was disclosed that the state of Michoacan and the Federal Government signed an agreement with the Defense Groups.
Coming more than a year since this movement started to defend themselves from the Knights Templar and take back control of various parts of the state, the agreement is to start an “institutionalization”.
With this signature, the federal government hopes that the Community Police will be incorporated into the Rural Defense Corps under the law and this will be a temporary measure.
The mission: “to cooperate with the federal troops in the activities they carry out, when requested to do so by the military command.”
THE LAST HOPE
For now, those seeking peace are living in migrants shelters, some do not know what will be their fate and others, like little Saul, dream that someday he will go back and play in the backyard of his home.
“There are times when the grenades boomed, he did not know if it was thunder or hand grenades, but then he knew that it was exploding grenades.”
He says he would like to tell the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, that he only asks for, “peace, that there not be so much violence, I want to go to school.”
Then he recalls and says, “I want to play in the yard at my house, but without bullets.”