Stuck In Tijuana, Many Central American Migrants Opt For A Job The Mexican government, faced with thousands of destitute migrants on their side of the U.S.-Mexico border, is inviting them to apply for jobs in Tijuana.
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Stuck In Tijuana, Many Central American Migrants Opt For A Job

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Stuck In Tijuana, Many Central American Migrants Opt For A Job

Stuck In Tijuana, Many Central American Migrants Opt For A Job

Stuck In Tijuana, Many Central American Migrants Opt For A Job

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/672342503/672342504" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Central American migrants line up to apply for jobs at a job fair in Tijuana, Mexico. More than two thousand migrants have applied for a one-year humanitarian visa that would allow them to hold jobs legally in Mexico. David Welna/NPR hide caption

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David Welna/NPR

Central American migrants line up to apply for jobs at a job fair in Tijuana, Mexico. More than two thousand migrants have applied for a one-year humanitarian visa that would allow them to hold jobs legally in Mexico.

David Welna/NPR

In the mud-filled sports complex where some 6,200 Central American migrants have been mired near the U.S. border in Tijuana, a 20-year-old Honduran named Josue Pineda awaits his turn for an open-air cold water shower. He's thinking about his next move, given the near impossibility of realizing his goal of crossing the border into the United States.

Pineda is one of a growing number of newly arrived migrants in Tijuana who have started thinking about Mexico as their next home.

"Most of these people are still dreaming of America," he says, "but if there's a chance to get a job here, there's no way I'm not going to take it."

More than two thousand of these migrants have enrolled for a one-year humanitarian visa that would allow them to hold jobs legally in Mexico. Some have already begun working.

"There's around ten thousand open jobs available in the maquiladora industry," says Tijuana alderman Genaro Lopez. "Those are the factories that work for big names like Sony, Pioneer and stuff like that here in Tijuana — Panasonic, Samsung."

Those assembly plants surround Tijuana and account for nearly two-thirds of the city's official economic activity. Some locals say the main reason they're hurting for workers is the low wages they offer.

"We need human capital," says Nayla Rangel, the coordinator of a federally and state sponsored jobs fair that's a 20 minute hike from the migrants' shelter. "The companies keep demanding more workers, and we're having a hard time keeping up."

In the large, covered courtyard where the jobs fair is being held, scores of scruffy-looking men and women from the shelter line up for interviews with government officials and industry representatives.

"Every day, more and more of these people are showing up, looking for work," says Rangel. "Tijuana is essentially a city of migrants, and these ones will always be well received here."

Not everyone in this crime-ridden border city is on board with migrants who entered Mexico without authorization getting jobs and official papers.

"Oh, it's not good," says 90-year-old Tijuana resident Roberto Sandoval, sitting on his motorized scooter outside the jobs fair and watching the parade of prospective Central American workers.

"Mexico should protect its own people, not these people that come from foreign countries."

Honduran migrant Rene Castillo, with new working papers in hand. He is one of thousands of Central American migrants waiting in Tijuana to apply for asylum in the U.S. David Welna/NPR hide caption

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David Welna/NPR

Honduran migrant Rene Castillo, with new working papers in hand. He is one of thousands of Central American migrants waiting in Tijuana to apply for asylum in the U.S.

David Welna/NPR

But Rene Castillo is happy. This 42-year-old construction worker from Honduras has just landed a job at a local assembly plant, where he'll start the next morning making the equivalent of $1.88 an hour.

"Thank God we've been given a chance to work here in Mexico," he says. "It may not be much to start out with, but I'm not looking to make millions — I just want to get settled and see what's next."

But Castillo has not yet ruled out attempting to get into the United States, where he has relatives. "No way am I giving up," he says, "I'm a positive person and I'll just have to give it a little more time."

It's the same for Claudia Hernandez, a pregnant Honduran mother of four who's just gotten a contract to work at another assembly plant.

"Mexico's alright," she says, "but the goal is getting to the United States — it's every Honduran's dream."

Job-seeking Honduran migrant Claudia Hernandez and her daughter, 6-year-old Angelina Jolie. David Welna/NPR hide caption

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David Welna/NPR

Job-seeking Honduran migrant Claudia Hernandez and her daughter, 6-year-old Angelina Jolie.

David Welna/NPR

But the Trump administration wants these migrants to remain in Mexico while their applications for asylum in the U.S. are being considered, a process that could take many months.

Mexico is offering free transportation to those migrants who want to return to their homelands. To the rest, it's offering jobs.