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Thread: Remain in Mexico: Tijuana rent scams target asylum seekers

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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Remain in Mexico: Tijuana rent scams target asylum seekers

    Remain in Mexico: Tijuana rent scams target asylum seekers

    Helen Pérez holds her one-year-old son Miguel as her husband Hans Vargas gives him water at Casa del Migrante, a shelter for migrants, asylum seekers, and deportees, on Friday, August 16, 2019 in Tijuana, Mexico. The couple, who are from Guatemala, and their two children have found a place to rent by sharing a house in Tijuana with several other adults and children.
    (Hayne Palmour IV / The San Diego Union-Tribune)


    By GUSTAVO SOLIS
    AUG. 26, 2019 12:01 AM

    TIJUANA — Hans Vargas spent months working construction for $15 a day to move his family out of a Tijuana migrant shelter.

    For about $100 a month Vargas, his girlfriend and their two children — ages one and two — lived in one half of an apartment that had one bedroom, one bathroom and no kitchen. The only thing separating them from their neighbor was a thin curtain — which led to awkward situations.


    “He’d show up drunk in the middle of the night and bring other people into the room,” said Vargas, 21.


    But at least it was home. They didn’t expect to get evicted without cause less than a month after moving in.


    Vargas lost the apartment when their asylum number was finally called from the waitlist. They reported at the U.S. port of entry in San Ysidro, spent three days in custody while waiting to be processed, and returned to Mexico to wait for their immigration court hearing — in accordance with the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy.

    During those three days — while the family of four was in custody — their landlord threw out all of the clothes the family had left behind and rented their half of the room to someone else, according to Helen Perez, Vargas’ girlfriend.


    “He didn’t give us a reason,” she said. “Just kicked us out.”


    What happened to the Vargas family is an example of a growing trend humanitarian workers are seeing throughout Tijuana — migrants desperate for housing are forced to pay high rents for inadequate housing while being vulnerable to rental scams and abrupt evictions.


    [Children play with a jump rope while in the courtyard of Casa del Migrante, a shelter for migrants, asylum seekers, and deportees, on Friday, August 16, 2019 in Tijuana, Mexico.
    (Hayne Palmour IV / The San Diego Union-Tribune)


    “We’ve been around for 32 years,” said Father Pat Murphy of Casa del Migrante. “This is a new problem.”

    Part of the issue is that Tijuana’s low-end rental market is largely unregulated, Murphy said.


    People illegally convert one bedrooms into two or three-bedrooms, build granny flats in their back yards, and find new ways of squeezing pesos from migrants.


    “In the end, people are making money off the migrants’ backs,” he said.


    One of the biggest challenges social workers have seen is that landlords charge rent in dollars. That makes it difficult for people who earn a living in pesos. It also means that landlords can demand more money based on the exchange rate. For example, if the price of pesos has fallen recently, it will take more pesos to cover the rent.


    Along with charging in dollars, the high demand for housing means landlords can charge high rents for low-quality housing, said social worker Cecilia Ortiz.


    “There is an older gentleman who has been living in a place without electricity or water for two months,” she said. “He says he’s comfortable but that’s not an ideal situation.”


    The man lives in a granny flat. To get electricity, the owner connects an extension cord from the main house to the flat. Whoever lives in the house unplugs the extension cord at night — leaving the man in the dark.

    His rent? About $50 a month — or about one week of work for those earning Tijuana’s minimum wage of $10 a day.


    Ortiz works out of a small office inside Casa del Migrante. Like Father Pat, she has been hearing more stories of migrants falling victim to rental scams and increasing rents pricing migrants out of the market.


    One common scam, Ortiz said, is a landlord disappearing as soon as someone gives them a deposit. Another involved landlords accusing tenants of damaging the property and asking for thousands of dollars for repairs.


    In terms of rising rents, Ortiz said she routinely sees rooms in poor condition offered for $300 a month or houses in rough neighborhoods going for $800 a month.


    The shelter allows people to stay as long as 40 days, but in the meantime staff helps them find jobs, save money for the deposits, and feeds them for free. Normally, people find housing before the 40 days are up.


    However, about a month ago, migrants who have left the shelter started to come back with stories of landlords running away with their deposits, families being evicted for no reason, or people renting rooms in houses they don’t own.


    “I think this might be the beginning of people trying to take advantage,” Murphy said.


    The asylum-seeking migrants are particularly vulnerable because many of them flee from countries with corrupt governments and police officers. So even if they were inclined to file a formal complaint, they are reluctant to speak out, Murphy added.

    Although they may not be aware of it, the migrants have some legal protections.


    The Mexican constitution says that all are equal under the law, including people from different countries, said Tijuana-based lawyer Luis Woo.


    Anyone who is evicted without cause can file a claim against their landlord in court — free of charge. Additionally, even if they do not have a written lease agreement, the law recognizes verbal agreements if there is a witness, Woo said.


    Vargas didn’t turn to the police when his family was evicted. Instead, he returned to Casa del Migrante.

    []Benito Rodriguez, 42, a Mexican who lived in San Diego for 28 years and was deported 18-months ago, at Casa del Migrante, a shelter for migrants, asylum seekers, and deportees, on Friday, August 16, 2019 in Tijuana, Mexico. Rodriguez is part of a group of fellow deportees that help migrants find housing in Tijuana.
    (Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

    Getting kicked out of their apartment was especially difficult considering what the family had done to get there in the first place.

    Before securing this apartment, the young family had spent four months living in Tijuana’s Casa del Migrante shelter while waiting for their number to be called from the notoriously slow-moving list to claim asylum in the United States.


    They fled Guatemala after a gang called Calle 18 — named after 18th Street in Los Angeles where the gang originated from — threatened to kill Vargas.

    He showed the death threats to local police but they refused to investigate, so they decided to head north, Vargas said.


    After leaving their home, traveling through Mexico with two small children and living in a shelter, they were happy to have a place to call their own. Even if it wasn’t very nice.


    After being kicked out of the apartment and returning to Casa del Migrante, Vargas and Perez enlisted the help of Puente Tijuana, a group that helps migrants and deportees find housing in Tijuana.


    The group scrutinizes housing ads to ensure they are not scams. The group can’t do anything about high rental prices, but they can protect families from having someone run away with their deposit, said Benito Rodriguez, who is part of the group and was a victim of scams himself.


    “When I arrived here, they robbed me,” he said. “We try to prevent other people from going through what we went through.”


    Rodriguez claims his landlord called the municipal police a few days after he paid a deposit and moved in and accused him of squatting. The police forced him out but didn’t press charges.


    Rodriguez helped Vargas and Perez find a three-bedroom house to share with other migrants who once lived at Casa del Migrante. For $70 a month, they occupy a living room and share one bathroom with seven other adults and three children.


    Despite the crammed conditions, the family likes it. The migrants look out for each other and get together for group meals.


    Last week, they had red chilaquiles for dinner.

    “We treat each other like a family,” Vargas said.

    https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com...asylum-seekers
    NO AMNESTY

    Don't reward the criminal actions of millions of illegal aliens by giving them citizenship.


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