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Illegal Migrants Wait at US Encampments Along Border, Former School in San Diego

Illegal Migrants Wait at US Encampments Along Border, Former School in San Diego

A Guatemalan mother and her daughter stand near their tent in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Brad JonesJohn Fredricks

Brad Jones & John Fredricks

11/7/2023

Updated: 11/8/2023

JACUMBA HOT SPRINGS, Calif.—Near sunset just outside a small town about 70 miles east of San Diego, the distant rumble of a dirt bike and an all-terrain vehicle breaks the faint sound of chatter among illegal immigrants and the wind on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Through narrow slats in the 30-foot-tall steel wall, the migrants in a wind-blown, dusty encampment along the border watch as two masked men—human smugglers known as “coyotes” working for Mexican cartels—drop off their cargo: a woman from Guatemala, her 10-year-old daughter, and a middle-aged Asian man.
The coyotes stop to show their passengers the makeshift shelters at the camp just yards from the wall on the northern side and briskly direct them to a well-worn path leading to a gap in the wall less than half a mile away. The barbed wire has been stripped next to a steep hillside, allowing the migrants to walk around the wall.
They join other migrants, mostly Latin American and Asian, who appear anxious and apprehensive as they wait their turn to be transported to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility to be processed before they can be released into the country.
A gap around the United States/Mexico border wall in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A gap around the United States/Mexico border wall in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Meanwhile, a U.S. Border Patrol Agent, who had been instructed not to talk to the press, drives back and forth on the dirt roads between three camps along the wall near Jacumba, an unincorporated village with a population of about 600.
Moments later, a Chevy van pulls into the camp creating a swirl of dust.
John Schultz, his father Samuel, his brother Nick, and a few friends step out of the van and set up a table to hand out bottles of water and serve a hot meal of rice and beans to about 30 tired and hungry migrants who rush to line up.
The family volunteers for a group called Border Kindness and are affiliated with an immigrant rights group, Al Otro Lado, which means “to the other side” in Spanish.
The local family makes daily trips to the three Jacumba-area camps to supply food and water to the migrants, and blankets when they can, John Schultz told The Epoch Times.
“It gets very cool over here, and it’s going to get a lot colder in December and January.”
When Title 42 expired on May 11, would-be illegal migrants were uncertain how the Biden administrations would respond. The widely anticipated border rush subsided quickly after Title 42 ended, but resumed when migrants realized the border was still open, he said.
In late May, the camps were hit with a “deluge of people,” sometimes hundreds at a time, he said.
“The second wave was huge—much, much bigger,” Mr. Schultz said.
(L to R) Nick, Samuel, and John Schultz volunteer together to feed migrants a hot meal in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

(L to R) Nick, Samuel, and John Schultz volunteer together to feed migrants a hot meal in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Volunteers feed migrants a hot meal in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (Brad Jones/The Epoch Times)

Volunteers feed migrants a hot meal in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (Brad Jones/The Epoch Times)

Now, with recent reports of more migrant caravans headed towards the southern border, Mr. Schultz doesn’t expect the influx to slow down anytime soon.
“This does not look like it’s abating at all,” he said. “This is an ongoing thing.”

Daily Grind

Besides providing evening meals, Mr. Schultz’s group also delivers peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the camps in the mornings and an “incredible amount of water,” he said.
In the camps, most of the migrants are well-behaved and grateful for any help they receive.
“Everyone’s usually on their best behavior,“ Mr. Schultz said. “They don’t want to give the government any reason to refuse them.”
While it may seem they’re making a big gamble by crossing the border illegally, most call ahead to friends or relatives who have already made it across and are fairly confident under current federal policies they won’t be turned back.
Border Patrol agents don’t interfere with the charitable work his group is doing, Mr. Schultz said.
“They know we’re making their lives easier. They’re all respectful,” he said. “I’ve never had any bad experiences with the Border Patrol.”
But, at one point when people were stranded at the encampments for days before they were taken to a processing center, there was “a little bit of rowdiness,” he said.
“During the first stages of this humanitarian crisis, they were having people out in the camps for up to five days. It was really bad,” he said. “Sometimes they wouldn’t line up, and sometimes because people think I’m working for the Border Patrol, they would ask me, ‘Can you do something about it?’”
“But,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, “what can I do?”
A border patrol agent drives at high speeds to track smugglers along the United States border wall in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A border patrol agent drives at high speeds to track smugglers along the United States border wall in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Now, women and children are typically moved out of the encampments to processing centers before men, usually within two or three hours, but sometimes longer, Mr. Schultz said.
The Border Patrol has “beefed up its budget,” and assigned more agents to the Jacumba-area camps since about mid-October, he said. “They’re able to process people a lot quicker, but every day is a new day, and it changes so quickly.”
Some migrants claim they’ve paid cartels as much as $40,000 per person for passage, but most pay about $2,000, Mr. Schultz said. “The ‘travel agents’—cartel members—are just going to take whatever is in the person’s pocket.”
Most of the migrants who’ve arrived at Jacumba are from Colombia, Brazil, Turkey, and China.
“We go through waves. Sometimes they’ll be mostly Chinese out here, and sometimes mostly Colombian. The other camp seems to be more Turkish, I don’t know why,” he said. “We haven’t really gotten any Haitians—some Africans, but just a few groups.”
Mr. Schultz said a lot of the illegal immigrants come to the U.S. via Colombia.
“They fly into Columbia from central Asia—Uzbekistan and wherever. They go through various stopping points up along the way, and they’ve got to pay,” he said. “The system, as is right now, is making so much money for the cartels. It’s like our government is paying them—I don’t know, it’s just pretty wild right now.”
Tia, a native San Diegan who works with the Schultzes and who wouldn’t reveal her full name, said the flow of illegal immigrants “waxes” and “wanes,” but there was a break in May when Title 42 ended.
“They bring them over on motorcycles,” she said. “Their ‘tour guide’ brings them over here on a dirt bike. It depends on how much money they have. You got money, you get to ride. You don’t got money, you gotta walk.”
Human smugglers drive ATVs on the Mexican side of the United States border wall near Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Human smugglers drive ATVs on the Mexican side of the United States border wall near Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Human smugglers drive ATVs on the Mexican side of the United States border wall near Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Human smugglers drive ATVs on the Mexican side of the United States border wall near Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Tia said many of the women fall prey to rape and sex trafficking.
“There are Chinese women being trafficked through here. I’ve seen them,” she said.
Equipped with surgical scissors, bandages and other medical supplies on her belt, Tia said she serves as a “field medic” to treat sick and wounded migrants.
“I’ve seen trauma wounds that occurred in the jungle,” she said. “I’ve pulled stitches out that were placed by Doctors Without Borders in the Darien Gap three weeks before.”
Migrants often suffer from wounds that re-open and are infected by the time they arrive at the border, as well as insect bites and scabies. And some are injured trying to climb over the wall, she said.
“I treated a man at the Moon Valley camp who had three deep cuts on the top of his head and a giant goose egg. He came over and hit the top of his head,” she said.
“Put on a mask!” she told the group, pointing out that a few people who arrived at the camps earlier that day had tested positive for COVID-19.
The camps are unsanitary, and the dust makes conditions worse, she said.
A makeshift migrant encampment sits next to the U.S.-Mexico border in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (Brad Jones/The Epoch Times)

A makeshift migrant encampment sits next to the U.S.-Mexico border in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (Brad Jones/The Epoch Times)

Gerson, a recently arrived Columbian migrant stands near the border wall in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Gerson, a recently arrived Columbian migrant stands near the border wall in Jacumba, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The Journey

A 27-year-old Colombian man who said his name is Gerson told The Epoch Times it took him six days to fly from Bogota, to Cancun, to Mexico City. He then traveled by bus to Tijuana and was taken to the border wall where he crossed.
“I didn’t walk in the jungle,” he said, referring to the Darien Gap, where many migrants begin their treacherous journey from South America.
Gerson said his mother paid $3,000 to the cartels to get him to the U.S., the same price others at the camp each paid.
“You pay half in Colombia and the other half in Cancun,” he said.
“My family lives here in U.S.A.,” Gerson said, explaining that he hopes to be reunited with his mother, who works in a factory in Utah, soon. “I was studying medicine in Colombia, but I had a motorcycle accident, and I couldn’t finish.”
Gerson waited until he had recovered from his injuries and came to the U.S. seeking better opportunities.
After being at the camp for about eight hours Oct. 31, Gerson said he wasn’t looking forward to the night ahead of him.
“This night may be very terrible, because it’s very cold,” he said.

NGOs in San Diego

Manny Bayon, a National Border Patrol Council union spokesman in San Diego, told The Epoch Times that agents first determine how much room is available at processing centers, and then pick up that number of people from the encampments.
For example, if 20 spaces are available, then 20 migrants are taken to the centers for processing, he said. Then, they are transported in unmarked shuttle buses to non-governmental organizations, or NGOs.
Migrants gather at a processing center run by San Diego nonprofit groups in the neighborhood of City Heights, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Migrants gather at a processing center run by San Diego nonprofit groups in the neighborhood of City Heights, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

From Jacumba, migrants are taken to the U.S. Border Patrol processing center in Otay Mesa, Calif. and then transferred to South Bay Community Services (SBCS), an umbrella NGO that then disperses immigrants to other NGOs that help them travel and settle in cities and towns across the country.
SBCS is currently operating out of a closed school, Central Elementary, in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood.
On Oct. 31, a black, luxury van advertising wine-tasting tours pulled up to a gated, picnic-tabled area where about 300 migrants ate supplied snacks, while two Muslim men on colorful mats faced Mecca to pray.
More than 20 male passengers of various tongues and ethnicities exited the van as a chauffeur wearing a formal black suit greeted them and handed the young men their luggage. The courtyard was abuzz with people speaking Arabic, Spanish, and French as the young men lined up to the sound of a man barking out directives on a bullhorn before dispersing into the crowd.
A woman who said her name was Valerie, wearing a surgical mask, medical scrubs, and a polo shirt embroidered with an SBCS logo, made her way through the shaded seating area stopping to answer questions from immigrants.
Surprised to find two Epoch Times journalists inside the compound, whom she asked to leave immediately, she declined to comment about SBCA or the operation at the abandoned school.
According to its website, SBCS is affiliated with UnidosUS, a leftwing Mexican-American advocacy organization formerly known as the National Council de La Raza.
Mr. Bayon said on Nov. 6 the Catholic Charities NGO is no longer taking new migrants.
“They’re full. They’re beyond capacity,” he said.
So instead, the migrants are taken to the SBCS hub at the school in City Heights.
According to Mr. Bayon, 400 to 500 illegal immigrants are released to NGOs in San Diego every day.
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Brad Jones

Brad Jones

Author

Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.

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John Fredricks

John Fredricks

Author

John Fredricks is a California-based journalist for The Epoch Times. His reportage and photojournalism features have been published in a variety of award-winning publications around the world.

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