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Many migrants entering the U.S. illegally land in makeshift camps in California


For many migrants, the first glimpse they get of America is three open-air camps in the cold.


Migrants crossed the border and are turning themselves in at the camps in Southern California, and they say it is the Border Patrol that is instructing them to wait in one of the open-air locations while they await processing. The camps are at the edge of Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif. The town has around 600 permanent residents and now also, each day, hundreds of temporary ones.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jasmine Garsd visited these camps recently. Hey there, Jasmine.


INSKEEP: What did you experience?

GARSD: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the cold. It was so cold. I was wearing a jacket, and I was freezing out there. And migrants, many underdressed, they end up making makeshift tents with pieces of tarp, sticks, old clothing. There's no water, there's no food, there's little to no bathrooms. And people get so cold they pick up brush and make bonfires. I mean, it looked like a scene from a refugee camp, but the difference is there was no infrastructure or official human aid. I mean, we're talking about as many as 300 people at a time at each camp, and many are children, and there's just no food provided. People have to go to the bathroom out in the open.

INSKEEP: Did you say there's no official humanitarian aid of the kind you would expect?

GARSD: No. I mean, in any other situation like this you would expect to see the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, the National Guard, but here, it's just locals from the town of Jacumba and volunteers going to hand out supplies and do basic first aid. I spoke to one woman named Karen Parker (ph). She was born and raised in this area. She's a retired social worker, and she goes down there a few times a week. She told me at times she's had to use veterinary medications on people. Here she is describing what she sees at these camps.

KAREN PARKER: Scabies, parasites, necrotic scorpion bites.


PARKER: Seizures.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Diabetic emergencies.

PARKER: Yes. Broken bones, burns. Lots of burns.

GARSD: And as winter approaches, she and other volunteers say they're getting increasingly worried.

INSKEEP: I want to zoom out a little bit from these camps and figure out what is happening here. Of course, you're on the U.S.-Mexico border. There are a lot of people who try to cross at different places. Exactly how are migrants getting to those three camps and why?

GARSD: So there's a gap in the U.S.-Mexico border wall. It starts in Jacumba, and it's several miles long. And people cross through there and hand themselves over to Border Patrol asking for help. And Border Patrol takes them to these camps and tells them to wait.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. They cross over, and they find a Border Patrol agent and say hello?

GARSD: Yes. In fact, as I was driving down there, I was flagged by migrants from Turkey who had just crossed. They were exhausted, and they asked me, please call Border Patrol. It was shocking, but these people have been told this is how you will be allowed to stay in the U.S. I spoke to one young man at the camps. He is Kurdish from Turkey. His name is Ramazan Bishar (ph). He said he was escaping government repression, which is why he turned himself over to Border Patrol.

RAMAZAN BISHAR: My plan is just get my green card and stay here all of my life. We will stay. We don't have any choice.

INSKEEP: OK. So that's a classic story, but why would it be that these particular migrants or asylum seekers would end up in these open-air camps, out in the cold?

GARSD: Well, I asked Customs and Border Protection multiple times for an explanation. I've gotten no answer. I think one of the main problems is that official asylum processes can take months on end, and some people are getting desperate enough to just cross the border on their own and hope for the best.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jasmine Garsd, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

GARSD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.