By Christine Murray
TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Hundreds of mostly Central American migrants poured into a new shelter on Friday as bus loads fled a filthy, flooded sports complex on the eve of a presidential inauguration in Mexico that could recast the border crisis with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Earlier in the day, streams of migrants laden with heavy backpacks, tents and blankets, much of it soaking wet, loaded buses leaving their original migrants shelter within sight of the border.
Helicopters swooped down nearby a few times and lines of people formed quickly when bottles of water were passed out. Diapers and milk for children were also distributed.
For those among the at least 6,000 migrants who have descended upon the Mexican border city of Tijuana, just south of San Diego on the U.S. side, the move to a former outdoor concert venue after torrential rains a day earlier reduced the old shelter to a muddy, smelly mess was a welcome relief.
“Here it’s better,” said Victor Manuel Argeta.
The 44-year-old native of Usulutan, El Salvador, spoke alongside his wife and two children as he surveyed the limited indoor space while many other caravan migrants set up simple camps in an open square in the middle of the property.
“It’s dry. We have a dry blanket. They gave us mattresses, too,” said Argeta.
He said he joined the caravan to find better job prospects in the United States.
Many of the migrants who made the trek to the East Tijuana property, some 7 miles (11 km) from the border, appeared thankful to be out of the muck even if most will sleep on thin mattresses on a cold, hard floor.
Jorge Alberto Lobo, 21, also from El Salvador, was eager to leave the old shelter as he packed up his few belongings.
“I have the dream, I think we all had it, to get to the other side, to the United States,” he said, but quickly adding that if he does not make it he will likely stay put in Mexico and look for work.
On Saturday, Mexico’s leftist president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, will take the oath of office in the capital as he seeks to make good on campaign promises to alienate poverty and inequality, in part to help stem the flow of Mexico’s own migrants.
The former mayor of Mexico City has welcomed the caravan migrants in speeches, pledging to offer work visas and even jobs building a major train line he has proposed.
The day before his inauguration, Lopez Obrador was resting with friends at this ranch in southern Chiapas state, near the border with Guatemala, and reaffirmed his support for the migrants.
“Progressive, democratic governments respect migrants, respect the right all of us have as human beings to search out a better life. It’s the most important human right,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.
He made a point of reflecting on the history of migrants north of the border.
“The United States is a country that became a powerhouse because of the work, effort and intelligence of migrants,” he said.
Trump, conversely, has dubbed the migrants an invading force that must be stopped, even threatening to shut the U.S. border if Mexico does not deport those gathered in Tijuana.
To date, Mexican officials have ignored the threat.
(Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by David Alire Garcia, Robert Birsel)