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December 26, 2023 by JOE ORELLANA

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Border Patrol has maintained open-air detention sites on San Diego’s southern border for more than one-hundred days. Over that span, tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been processed through camps that CBP does not officially acknowledge.

Some asylum seekers have spent days without shelter nor adequate food and water despite being detained in all but official designation. These sites are clustered in two areas in the county: San Ysidro, less than ten miles from the shore, and the desert more than eighty miles inland from the coast.

In San Ysidro, agents drop asylum seekers between the border walls at a steady pace. While there are at least three such sites, aid workers are only allowed access to one. At that site, the detained population has remained under one-hundred for some weeks. That population generally includes families, and Border Patrol all but relies on aid workers to provide food and shelter to detainees.

When LCRW visited this site on the 9th, an elderly asylum seeker described having previously fallen from the border wall. They recalled how they lost consciousness and notified aid workers of persistent pain. That asylum seeker was traveling with their grandchildren.

Volunteer aid workers have treated grievous injuries that resulted from border-wall falls. But several have required first-responders. Aid organizations gave LCRW this link with resources for those interested in helping at the border.

The left side of the frame is dominated by a wall made of large metal posts, extending into the distance. A child is raising his hand through the wall, in prayer. On the right, a priest reads from a tablet while raising his hand. In the middle of the table is a makeshift altar. The sky is blue,
Faith leaders held a Christmas Eve service for those who wanted to observe the holiday while detained.

LCRW visited the San Ysidro site on Christmas Eve. At first, two families with small children were being held between the walls. Within an hour, an agent dropped off a van of fifteen asylum seekers and informed volunteers that an additional fifteen more were coming. He clarified that a total of thirty eight asylum seekers were being dropped off.

In the middle of the frame, people are exiting a Border Patrol van. They carry personal belongings and children. The sun is behind them, and they all cast long shadows against the warm-orange dirt. The sky is blue, but it's nearly evening. In the foreground, out of focus, a small child is smiling and raising her hand to the camera. In her hand is a small orange star-shaped plushie.
As Border Patrol dropped asylum seekers at an open-air detention site on Christmas Eve, a small child showed her toy star to the camera. She informed a volunteer that the star was named “Princesa,” or “Princess.”

The agent told the group, including elementary-aged children, that they would either be transported in the night or in the following morning. 

There are tents in the foreground, but distant from the camera. This wide shot contains a hilltop, and at its crest sit two asylum seekers. They are wearing sweaters. The trees are hardy desert fauna with hardly any leaves. The sky is a wide open blue with wispy streaks of clouds, and it's mid-day.
Asylum seekers languish in open-air detention sites just feet away from the border wall on December 14th, 2023.

In the desert around Jacumba, asylum seekers are corralled into several sites by Border Patrol. The agency maintains camps with populations that rarely drop below one-hundred. When LCRW visited these sites on the 14th, hundreds of migrants were held at detention sites in the Campo and Boulevard communities.

LCRW witnessed asylum seekers whose bracelets were marked “Tuesday.” Thursday the 14th was the second day in the open desert for those detained. Temperatures that day were recorded with a low of 40º F in the region.

A man in an olive-green western hat works on a vertical wooden post. Three struts run from the post, extending downward and out of frame. The man is wearing gloves and a plaid shirt. Behind him and the under-construction yurt are numerous tents and asylum seekers.
Volunteers like journalist James Stout built yurts for asylum seekers on December 14th, 2023. As they built, Border Patrol processed some at this camp for transport.

Volunteers worked to build yurts at one detention site. Aid workers and asylum seekers worked together, fashioning donated materials into shelter from the cold.

In the days prior to LCRW’s visit, a Border Patrol agent instructed asylum seekers to tear down their own makeshift shelters. Since then, the agency has hired contractors to tear down other structures.Volunteers have since compiled a resource on yurt construction.

In the foreground, asylum seekers stand. They're out of focus. In the midground, more asylum seekers are standing. They have long hair, various kinds of warm clothing, and bags. Just beyond these asylum seekers stands one border patrol agent. In the background, one sees desert sand and brush.
Patrol agents separated asylum seekers by age, gender, and familial associations prior to transport on December 14th, 2023.

Bigots have periodically stopped at both the San Ysidro and Jacumba detention sites to gather footage for their propaganda. Internet commentator Danny Mullen brought former Bachelor competitor Leo Dottavio to Jacumba to film asylum seekers and harass aid workers. Self-described human trafficking investigator Anthony Aguero brought a partner to film and cast doubt on the plight of asylum seekers in San Ysidro. Aguero was present at the January 6 capitol riot in Washington, D.C.

In the foreground, the edges of tents are visible but out of focus. Beyond those tents are asylum seekers, who are standing with their backs to the camera. Beyond them, a border patrol agent is smiling at another agent, who is gesticulating and facing away from the camera. Behind the agents is a border patrol van, and in the distance one can see a highway.
Some agents talked amongst themselves while asylum-seekers waited and watched pre-transport processing.

Both sites have been subject to threats and the Jacumba site has [seen injury]. Aid workers circulated warnings about a man who threatened to “run down” migrants at the San Ysidro site. Miscreants at the Jacumba site ran over an asylum seeker’s foot while doing donuts dangerously close to migrants with nowhere to go.

A Border Patrol agent converses with National Guard members on December 14th, 2023. Three men are visible from the waist up, they are wearing camouflage fatigues and leaning toward the border patrol agent. To their right, a border patrol agent is standing in an olive-green uniform. He is also looking down at his phone, which he's holding out for a guardsman.
A Border Patrol agent shows National Guard members something on his phone on December 14th, 2023.

Meanwhile, local elected officials have continued to espouse racially-coded “invasion” rhetoric. In October, County Supervisor Jim Desmond boosted claims that CBP sent an internal bulletin warning of encounters with Hamas fighters at the southern border. 

Later that month, CBP told media that “the agency has seen no indication of Hamas-directed foreign fighters seeking to make entry into the United States.”

Fascist propaganda outlets have since highlighted the number of asylum seekers dropped in San Diego county by Border Patrol—but decline to mention that most don’t plan to stay in San Diego. 

A crowd forms a wide queue ahead of the camera. There are hundreds. To the right of the frame, the southern border wall is visible. It casts a shadow and tents are pitched against it. In the distance, one can see desert hills. Numerous tents dot the detention site.
Volunteers fed hundreds of asylum seekers at one site on December 14th. Volunteers are the only ones providing hot meals for asylum seekers.

Four immigrant-rights organizations have jointly filed a complaint over family separations in San Diego. Aid organizations like Al Otro Lado have documented nearly 1,100 instances of family separation in the region. Asylum seekers were being released from Border Patrol custody separate from their families.

For these people, being processed out of the open-air detention sites yields yet another kind of suffering. Al Otro Lado has since told media that CBP claims this is the new normal.

 two children squat in the sand. There is sand spilling from their hands. Behind them, tents are crumpling in the wind ever so slightly. To the right, a portable restroom extends out of frame. In the distance, there are desert sands and stone.
Two children play in the sand at an open-air detention site in Jacumba.

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