CALEXICO — After police towed a trailer from the tiny tent city along the U.S.-Mexico border fence at what seemed to be the urging of federal authorities, it appeared as though eviction was imminent for the farmworkers making camp in Calexico.
That was Monday morning, March 29, but one day later, the tone of what had gone down was decidedly different, according to a U.S. Border Patrol El Centro Sector spokesperson.
It appears the Border Patrol is “exploring” the potential of repositioning a movable barricade that abuts the farmworker encampment located on city land near Andrade Avenue and First Street.
“El Centro Border Patrol Sector is exploring the logistics of moving the barricades, but no date has been determined,” Agent Anthony Garcia stated in an email on Tuesday morning, March 30.
The agency clarified that it does not have any plans to relocate anyone currently residing at the encampment. The Border Patrol expressed hope that the potential repositioning of the barricade may not prompt the encampment’s displacement.
“The encampment is near the intersection of First Street and Andrade (and) the Barrier is east of that so I’m sure that we can work around it,” Garcia stated.
The official line from the El Centro Sector is a bit different than the message being conveyed by some Calexico city officials on Monday, when Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo told this newspaper that he believed the relocation of those at the encampment was imminent, likely less the three weeks away.
The movable barricades in question are in an unpaved easement north of the permanent 30-foot barrier between the United States and Mexico. Meanwhile, Garcia said on Tuesday that the movable barrier was previously positioned slightly north of its current location but repositioned to allow for the construction of a cinderblock wall at the adjacent apartment complex, Garcia said.
“It was (moved) just enough so that the construction could be done at that residence,” Garcia stated on Tuesday.
The encampment is made up of several tents that are situated just west of the movable barricade, though an expanded part of it lies directly between the movable barricade and the apartment building’s cinderblock wall.
On Thursday, March 25, a travel trailer was added to the encampment, only to be towed at the orders of the Calexico Police Department on Monday morning.
On Friday, March 26, the Border Patrol notified the Police Department of the travel trailer, which was allegedly blocking access to the easement, Chief Gerardo told the Calexico Chronicle several hours after the trailer was towed and he had walked the site.
Its removal by police on Monday was characterized by Gerardo as “stage 1” of the Border Patrol’s plans to reposition the movable barrier found within that segment of the border. He also alluded to the removal of people off the site as part of that overall process.
The travel trailer was towed by police for reportedly having expired registration. The manner in which it was parked also violated a city ordinance against the long-term parking of campers on city property, Gerardo said.
The encampment is located on the city property that the city intended to sell to the federal government. The sale of the land and another similar parcel along the border is pending a final determination by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had sought the parcels to build a secondary border barrier.
The purchase of the land was placed on hold as a result of President Joe Biden’s suspension of border construction, the city recently reported.
The travel trailer was reportedly dropped off at the encampment on Thursday, March 25, by a local immigrant rights activist who was instrumental in the establishment of the encampment in late January. About 10 farmworkers are being housed in tents erected at the site.
One occupant of the encampment told this newspaper on Monday that a Border Patrol official who was at the encampment to observe the removal of the camper stated that the repositioning of the movable barrier would begin in about three weeks. Gerardo indicated that effort may begin sooner.
The establishment of the farmworker encampment stoked controversy and division among the City Council, as well as complaints from nearby neighbors to the Calexico Police Department.
On Monday, Gerardo said police have received complaints about the site, but the people complaining do not want to come forward and potentially open themselves up to harassment or social media ridicule.
As the trailer was towed, the chief walked the site on Monday morning, recording the footage on his body cam. He described the site as being “unsanitary” and being in a messy condition, with trash strewn about.
Although the photos taken by this newspaper do show the site as appearing unkempt, unsanitary conditions were not immediately seen.
Since its establishment, Calexico City Council member Raul Ureña has been one of its more vocal supporters.
The removal of the travel trailer by police on Monday prompted Ureña to decry the action in a three-minute video he posted on one of his public Facebook pages.
“Obviously, morally this is not OK,” Ureña said in his video.
The Police Department’s action prompted Ureña to request public records and police body-worn camera footage of the enforcement action.
Ureña said he is seeking information as well regarding the city’s lease of the land to the federal government. Specifically, he wants to know whether the lease agreement stipulates physical boundaries that could limit where the movable barricade could potentially be repositioned.
The person responsible for dropping off the travel trailer remained unknown to Ureña on Monday evening. A license plate check of the camper by the Police Department revealed it was registered to an individual residing near Seeley, although police declined to state that person’s name.
The encampment had initially been set up by local immigrant rights activist Hugo Castro, who reportedly had dropped off the camper on Thursday, according to a pair of individuals who were residing at the encampment on Monday. Castro could not be immediately reached for comment.
“The site itself is pretty autonomous,” Ureña said. “There is no one really in charge.”
The fact that no one appears to be in charge of the site does not sit well with Mayor Pro Tem Javier Moreno.
On Monday, Moreno said he was under the impression that authorities were going to dislodge the entire “illegal” encampment and expressed disappointment when he discovered that was not the case.
It makes no sense to have individuals reside at such an encampment when there already exists a men’s homeless shelter in the city of Calexico that is operated by Catholic Charities and provides essential amenities and services, Moreno said.
“I personally would want then to go to a shelter where they can be provided food and medicine,” he said.
Since the encampment’s creation, a number of nearby residents have complained to Moreno about its presence. The potential establishment of a secondary permanent border barrier at the site, as envisioned by the Army Corps, would benefit the neighborhood, he said.
“The more secure, the better,” Moreno added.
He also questioned why the individuals who are currently residing at the encampment aren’t being directed by their supporters to seek housing at the newly renovated Hollies Hotel, which was converted into affordable housing for seniors and homeless individuals.
The answer to such a question, Moreno said, is because the farmworkers being housed at the encampment are being exploited by their so-called advocates for political purposes.