(From left) Retired NBA player Jason Collins and celebrity designer Nate Berkus were part of a delegation led by Equality California that visited a Tijuana migrant shelter. / Photo courtesy of Equality California

If you’re looking for a sense of just how intensely the border has come to dominate the national spotlight, look no further than the fact that a steady stream of celebrities and social media influencers has been drawn to the Tijuana-San Diego region over the last year.

In September, Alyssa Milano came to San Diego to announce the launch of funds to help provide legal services to immigrants facing deportation who otherwise couldn’t afford attorneys.

America Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama, Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington were among a group of actors and activists who spent time with Central American families in Tijuana in March, waiting to request asylum in the United States.

Even more recently, a delegation of LGBTQ elected officials, artists, athletes and activists, including celebrity designers Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent from TLC’s “Nate and Jeremiah by Design,” took a trip to Tijuana to visit migrant shelters and speak with asylum-seekers.

“I think it’s important to shine a light on what’s going on just a few steps from San Diego,” Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who was part of the tour, told Fox 5 afterward. “It was particularly heartbreaking to hear what many are encountering at home — the housing shortages, the violence. It’s understandable why they would want to flee.”

Celebrities and other influencers with large followings don’t tend to be experts in immigration law or policy. But Samuel Garrett-Pate, the communications director at Equality California, which organized the delegation that included Gloria and Berkus, said people with large followings are important because they point people to causes they may not otherwise care about. Many of those followers may have the means to help — either with money, skills or connections — but may not fully understand the issues and how they can best contribute.

Members of the Equality California delegation, for example, visited the Centro de Integración y Recuperación Jardín de las Mariposas, which provides shelter and other care to LGBTQ asylum-seekers in Tijuana.

Jardín de las Mariposas began as an organization that helped members of the LGBTQ community in Tijuana who were homeless or struggling with addiction. When the April 2018 migrant caravan from Central America arrived, said Yolanda Rocha, who runs the center, she realized there was also a need to help LGBTQ migrants.

Many of the other organizations that help migrants in Tijuana are religious, Rocha said, and they often wouldn’t accept migrants who are openly LGBTQ.

“We never thought the need would be so big,” Rocha said.

The shelter has a capacity for 20 people, but there have been nights when she’s needed to make space for up to 45. And there is only one bathroom in the building.

Berkus and Brent committed to paying the organization’s rent at a larger, safer place for two years after their trip, “so they can focus on providing services and shelters,” said Garrett-Pate.

But celebrities are important in another respect, Garrett-Pate said. They have more followers than many media outlets and certainly more than most politicians and immigration advocates.

Berkus and Brent, for example, have a successful show on TLC that reaches a breadth of people from all over the country with different backgrounds and political beliefs.

“They are able to help share the stories of asylum seekers who are staying at that shelter,” Garrett-Pate said. “They are able to bring their audience along in a way we can’t, that the press can’t, that politicians can’t. That’s huge at keeping this at the forefront of people’s attention.”

Rocha said it’s essential for LGBTQ migrants to have a space specifically for them, where people are accepting and understanding of the unique traumas they’ve faced. Even in the shelter, LGBTQ migrants sometimes face complaints from neighbors who don’t like the way some of them dress as they see them leaving the shelter to go to medical appointments or to obtain other services.

While she’s grateful for the donation and to be able to look for a larger space, Rocha said operating a shelter on a rental property still constantly worries her.

“After two years, what is going to happen?” she said.

Her ultimate goal is to be able to buy property where she can build a stable home, a sanctuary, for both LGBTQ migrants and Tijuanenses.

  • In a poignant op-ed for the New York Times, KPBS reporter Jean Guerrero argues Trump’s hard-line immigration policies and border rhetoric are making things difficult for people who actually live at the border. Guerrero details the reality of those who live in our border region — people who constantly cross the border to work, attend school, visit family or find affordable medical care. “What’s often missing from our national immigration narrative is the centrality of complex binational communities like Cali-Baja, home to the country’s busiest port of entry and the San Diego-Tijuana metropolitan area,” she writes.

Another High-Speed Border Patrol Chase Ends in Death

Last week, a 54-year-old man died and four other people were injured after a driver fleeing Border Patrol agents lost control of the vehicle on a Chula Vista freeway.

The collision marks at least the fourth Border Patrol chase to end in death in less than two years in San Diego County, reports the Union-Tribune.

Earlier this month, a Los Angeles Times and ProPublica investigation found that on average, these pursuits end in a crash every nine days, and that in the past four years at least 250 people were injured and 22 died after a Border Patrol pursuit.

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Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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