MEXICALI — Hundreds of migrants are deported into Mexicali every week, and Hotel Migrante has assisted more than 90,000 of them over the past three years since renovating an abandoned hotel just a few blocks from the Calexico downtown Port of Entry.
A lot has changed over a few years at the hotel with the majority of the renovations and expansions occurring in just the past year alone.
While originally operating without electricity or running water and most visitors sleeping on the floor, the hotel not only has new paint, but skylights installed where gaping ceiling holes used to be and actual bunk beds lining the clean walls.
It’s by no means luxurious, but it’s a safe haven for the roughly 100 to 140 people deported into downtown Mexicali every night, Angeles Sin Fronteras International coordinator Hugo Castro said.
The nonprofit organization runs the hotel and organizes ways to raise the roughly $6,000 to $7,000 it takes to operate the hotel monthly.
The hotel was originally only operating on the building’s top floor but has since taken over the entire two-story structure plus a spacious basement where staff hopes to host work development and art classes, Castro said.
“We want to explore their ideas, to inform the community about migrants, because most people criminalize migrants,” he explained. “We want to show their life.”
The work development classes will be focused on training people to work as electricians, in welding and air-conditioner installing, he said, since those are the jobs most in area demand.
“We want to help them so they can stay here in Mexico instead of risking their lives going into the U.S.,” he said. “We’re not just providing assistance but want to make a difference while fighting against racist immigration policy in both countries.”
Various representatives of local agencies including Mexicali police, the city of Mexicali and local charities attended the celebration Tuesday.
After multiple speeches, a moment of silence was held for those who have died crossing the border. Live music was performed by a large band.
Deported migrants filled the basement afterward to watch scenes from the documentary “The Dream Without Visa” created by Diego Gonzalez Joven, who was in attendance of the anniversary celebration.
His work shows footage of several undocumented immigrants followed from South America into the United States.
“Migrants are invisible. They might be your co-workers or nanny and you never know all the stories of what happened to them on their journey,” the filmmaker said. “Most of these people, their dream is not their dream but dreams for their kids, to raise and educate them. They risk their lives for that dream.”
Mexicali City Clerk Tobias Duarte Corral praised the work of the hotel, saying that by providing this assistance, deported migrants are less likely to either engage in street crime or be a victim of it.
“Staying in the hotel helps people to have a future with things like work. People don’t want to stay here in Mexicali but want to get to the U.S. or their cities of origin,” he said. “It’s very good work, because now they’re not on the streets asking for money and sometimes help the city.”
Castro said that while he feels that historically the city of Mexicali has demonized deported migrants, he is seeing a change in perception leaning toward support, particularly from the secretary of security.
The state of Baja California has already provided the hotel with funding for repairs to the structure as well as for rent and utilities, and the city of Mexicali has donated blankets.
Other changes for the hotel include the addition of a small restaurant that provides budget meals as well as expansion of the hotel’s library, which will be named after the late San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus professor Rogelio Reyes.
Abraham Casteñeda, 39, has been at the hotel for three months after being deported from Omaha, Neb. He said he has spent more than half of his life in the U.S. but will go wherever it is that he can find work and would like to try working in Mexico.
He’s been deported twice already.
While most people stream in and out of the hotel, staying less than a week, others call it their new home and help work there running the place.
Gerardo Carlo Castillo has been staying at the hotel ever since he arrived three years ago, five days after Hotel Migrante founder and director Sergio Tamai first opened the doors.
He has been deported seven times. The last one occurred while he was eating tacos at a Los Angeles restaurant during a raid. He said he’s grateful for the hotel since it’s the only place accepting people 24 hours a day.
“The truth is what is happening here is something I’ve never seen before,” he said in Spanish. “We used to light the place up with candles and sleep on floors because there were no beds or mattresses. There used to be 200 deportees every night and more in the day. Now we’re seeing less people but in better conditions.”
Call Hugo Castro at 760-482-6355 or email email@example.com for more information on Hotel Migrante or how to assist.
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was amended to correct the spelling of a name.
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