Tijuana Pastor Albert Rivera Denounces
By Cindy Azucena Gomez-Schempp
In October and November, a migrant caravan of more than 6,000 people from Central America arrived in Tijuana, Mexico. Benito Juárez, an open-air sports center close to the border, was set up as a temporary shelter by the local government. It quickly became overcrowded, and then a downpour of rain flooded it with water, trash, and raw sewage. It was deemed a health hazard and closed, and El Barretal, a large building previously used for concerts and events, was set up as a new shelter. Unlike Benito Juárez, El Barretal had flooring and roofing, and was run and paid for by the federal government of Mexico. Shelter, food, bathrooms, medical assistance, cleaning, and other services were provided. Transportation was provided to El Barretal when it opened and many people went.
Hundreds stayed and started camping in the streets next to Benito Juárez, expressing distrust in the government and a desire to stay close to the border (El Barretal is about 10 miles away), despite not having any bathrooms or proper shelter. Organizations and activists brought donations and support. Amadeo Sindbad Rumney, a self-described filmmaker from France, set up a makeshift kitchen to feed the migrants. Alejandro Solalinde, founder of Hermanos en el Camino (Brethren on the journey) and a Catholic priest and activist well-known in Mexico, came to visit and supported the migrants going to El Barretal or other shelters. He cautioned against police using force or evicting them. But police weren’t making much progress trying to convince the migrants to go to the new shelter and problems were mounting up, including violations of the law, health and safety concerns, and complaints from locals, including a parent’s association that closed an elementary school for weeks citing fears for their children’s safety.
In mid-December, Solalinde and Mexican Senator Jaime Bonilla made possible a temporary shelter in the same location. Gilberto Herrera, delegate of the Integral Programs of Development, said the winery warehouse building would be provided for one or two months for the migrants on the streets, at no cost to the Tijuanese or federal government. The migrant group called it Contra Viento y Marea (Against Wind and Tide).
A few weeks later, the Ministry of Health of the Government of the State of Baja California took action to close it due to a lack of adequate sanitary conditions, and the Federal Commission for the Protection Against Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) placed closing seals. Along with health workers, federal police came and asked people to remove themselves because “the place puts your health at risk.” Buses were brought for those that wanted to go to El Barretal, but only a dozen or so of the less than 200 migrants that remained left.
Senator Bonilla renounced his support via a representative who explained that Bonilla had gotten the place through a business friend at the request of a Christian congregation that promised to take charge, but that the congregation had abandoned them and did not take care of the people or the place. He said it was unhealthy and spoke of outbreaks of chickenpox and bronchial respiratory diseases. There was no water or ventilation and it wasn’t clean. He also said the situation was reported to Solalinde, who asked to speak to the leaders of the group, but when he put them on the phone, they hung up on him.
Activists, mostly American and some of which support Antifa, anarchist, and/or other extremist groups and ideologies, stayed with the Contra Viento y Marea migrants. Many of these activists regularly put out updates on social media and operated as part of a Facebook group founded by self-described Antifascist Evan K. Duke, called the Caravan Support Network (changed recently to Border Support Network and previously known as the #AsylumSeekers Caravan Support Network). They posted about riot police, warned of an imminent raid that never happened, and made it seem as if the migrants had nowhere to go. Shortly before the time the group had been told they needed to leave, it was announced that lawyers managed to get an injunction against COFEPRIS and thus prolong the eviction a few more days. The group was given access to water, food, and toilets outside the building, but police were controlling access, and those that left were not allowed to return.
The tense situation went on for six days, at which point approximately 70 migrants remained, and Pastor Albert Rivera of the Agape church offered his shelter to the migrants. Around 50 migrants visited Agape Mision Mundial to decide if they wanted to go, and they did, and they went. All things considered, it seemed to be a very happy ending.
At the shelter, Rivera said he explained the rules to the migrants, which included letting the shelter know when they were going off premises, being in by 10 pm, sleeping inside the shelter, and no alcohol, drugs, stealing, violence, coyotes (human traffickers), or illegal activity of any kind. Activists that still accompanied the migrants were told they were not allowed to sleep in the shelter or camp outside.
In interviews with Mexican media, including Telemundo, Sintesis TV, and Diario Tijuana (translated by kpppfm.com), the pastor relayed the dramatic scene that unfolded. Rivera said three days passed before members of his staff told him that they had witnessed some of the migrants using marijuana and crystal meth. Shortly after, he said an altercation occurred in the computer lab at the shelter, when a migrant man began yelling at a fourteen-year-old migrant and calling him a thief. Several men began bullying the boy, who started pointing at several of the migrants, claiming that they were using drugs provided by some of the Americans. One of the men was identified by the pastor as Frank, the son of Reinero Lainez, the spokesperson for the Contra y Viento Marea group during the standoff at the warehouse. Frank told the boy he was a rat and the men began threatening the boy, saying that rats are beaten and killed.
Rivera said he stepped in and told the men they had no authority, that they were wrong to threaten the child, and that anyone using drugs needed to leave. And as a result, the migrants reached out to the activists, who came and asserted that they were taking about twenty people with them, including the boy. Rivera then called the police, who deescalated the situation before leaving the child in the pastor’s care. But after the police left, the activists took the child despite the pastor’s objections. Rivera communicated in a WhatsApp group the activists had previously shared with him that they needed to return the boy, and that he was reporting the situation to authorities and the media. Rivera said the following days were filled with what felt like hostage negotiation, and that the activists told him he could only see the child if they were present and outside the shelter, which he did not agree to.
Two days later, Rivera said about a dozen people from the group of activists and migrants, including the boy, came to his office at the shelter with their phones recording, to show that the boy had not been taken but had left of his own free will. The boy said he didn’t want to stay with the pastor and accused him of selling children to drug cartels. Rivera asked to speak to the boy alone but the activists refused, and he could not convince the boy to stay. After police arrived and everything was settled officers told the pastor that they were leaving the child in his care and custody. The matter seemed settled, expect that it wasn’t. The activists took the child anyway while the pastor objected and filmed.
When the group left Rivera called 911 and followed on foot. He said they tried to get a taxi and that they ran from him before other activists in vehicles arrived and they all took off. The driver of one of the vehicles, who Pastor Rivera said assumed responsibility for taking the child, was identified as River Dougherty of Boulder, CO. Next to him in the passenger seat was a female masked activist that Rivera believes was providing marijuana to migrants, including the boy. The police managed to stop the group, and the boy, kicking and screaming, was placed in the custody of the National System for Integral Family Development (DIF) and taken to a YMCA shelter for minors.
The boy snuck out of the YMCA shelter and sadly, his location remains unknown.
As reported to the Diario Tijuana media outlet, Pastor Rivera used a WhatsApp group the activists (including the Caravan Support Network) had joined him in to communicate his plans to report the unauthorized taking of the child to authorities. Pastor Rivera spoke to KPPP-LP radio 88.1 FM Fargo-Moorhead about allegations that the Caravan Support Network was providing drugs to the caravan, had kidnapped Carlos and were working closely to a lawyer’s group, Al Otro Lado who he alleged were perpetrating false marriages to be used in fraudulent asylum claims at the border. Click here to listen to Pastor Rivera’s interview on A Mexican Crossing Lines. Pastor Rivera also revealed how Father Solalinde negotiated transport from Mexican governors to the Northern border as well as why Al Otro Lado lawyer Nora Phillips was detained and deported from Guadalajara, citing that authorities already had information of his report to them about the legal advice they provided to migrants from his shelter to use fake marriage documents provided by Al Otro Lado in their asylum claim. The pastor provided documented evidence for his claims against the Al Otro Lado lawyers in his interview with KPPP-LP.
More information and the latest coverage available at www.kpppfm.com
By Cindy Azucena Gomez-Schempp
Cindy Azucena Gomez-Schempp is the Co-founder of The People’s Press Project, a media justice non-profit. She is also the host of A Mexican Crossing Lines. She’s an author, writer, and implements new media/social media outreach and web optimization, translating and cultural consulting services. Questions and comments: email@example.com
Web: www.fmppp.org, www.kpppfm.com, www.mexi-can.org
Tumblr: A Mexican Crossing Lines
Facebook: The People’s Press Project, 88.1 FM Fargo-Moorhead, Mexi-CAN