With the end of Title 42 on Thursday, hundreds of migrants are now stranded between the walls of the U.S.-Mexico border — unable to cross into the United States but unwilling to venture back into Mexico. Some of these migrants have been stuck in this liminal space for over a week, sustaining themselves initially on the food and water given out by the U.S. authorities and volunteer donations. This week, many of them have begun resorting to ordering food via delivery apps from the Mexican side of the border.
On the Tijuana and San Diego border, where migrants are stranded between two of the three walls that separate the two countries, deliveries are being handed off through the gaps in the wall. Rest of World came across at least 10 delivery drivers along the Mexican side of the border wall, all servicing trapped migrants.
The trapped migrants said they were initially given water and energy bars by U.S. Border Patrol, but they told Rest of World it was not enough food to sustain them. Meanwhile, ordering a meal on a smartphone is much harder than it sounds. With limited opportunities to charge their phones or buy data, migrants must weigh their need to place food orders with the need to keep in touch with the outside world.
“We’re in need of everything,” said Emanuel, a migrant from Ecuador. He was stuck between the three border walls separating Tijuana and San Diego, since Tuesday. “Food, water, something to protect us from the heat and from the cold. It’s all stuff we want to buy, but we can’t afford for someone to be bringing us all that.” The migrants who spoke to Rest of World asked to be identified by their first name only for their safety.
The migrants have come from all over the world, including Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Haiti. Some have come from as far as Afghanistan. Most have cellphones, and many have smartphones. As of January 2023, any U.S. asylum seekers are essentially required to use a smartphone to apply for asylum via the CBP One app.
Title 42 allowed U.S. authorities to turn back asylum claimants at the border, but there were no limits to how many times a migrant could make a claim. With the expiration of Title 42, the Biden administration announced it would be accepting asylum applications but only in limited numbers and with much stricter consequences for those trying to cross the border without the right paperwork.
This, along with a swirl of misinformation, has led many migrants to believe that the U.S. will now be easier to enter. The border has seen a surge of migrants attempting to cross in recent days. At various points, many migrants faced the U.S. Border Patrol and National Guard, who physically prevented their entry into the country, trapping many in this borderland limbo.
“I crossed by going under the wall,” Beatriz, a Colombian migrant, told Rest of World. “It was difficult because there are a lot of people, lots of children.”
Many migrants who are stuck tend to be the least well-off, Enrique Lucero, head of the office in Tijuana that oversees migrant issues, told Rest of World. This is why they are least equipped to place orders on delivery apps, he said.
“There are those who have access to international coverage on their phones,” Lucero said. “Then there are those who, once here, switch SIM cards in order to have a working Mexican line.” Those limited to Mexican mobile coverage stick close to the border wall in an attempt to get the best signal to place their food orders.
Migrants use delivery services such as Uber Eats and Rappi to order food. Waiting for food delivery requires staying put in one spot. That comes with additional risk, but the migrants said it’s worth it for a hot meal.
“Taiwanese food — I think that’s what they ordered,” said Jesús Vargas, a Rappi delivery driver based in Tijuana who delivered food to migrants a few miles from the border crossing point into San Diego. “It’s the second time I’ve tried to deliver to them. The previous time, they canceled because the delivery point was too dangerous. They’re in a really tough spot, but it’s what they have to do to survive.”
Because most of the migrants don’t have credit cards or other electronic payment alternatives, they mostly pay for the deliveries in cash. One woman paid $100 for a whole chicken because the driver did not carry change — let alone in U.S. dollars.
Keeping their phones charged is another concern for migrants caught in limbo. Several migrants said the U.S. Border Patrol agents prohibited volunteers on the U.S. side from providing charging stations for the migrants. Most recently, some residents on the Mexican side have been offering, out of kindness, to take migrants’ cellphones to their homes to charge and bring them back.
As news about the migrants’ plight spreads, other volunteers have gathered along the border. Apart from offering to charge cellphones, many are now giving away food to spare migrants the trouble of struggling to place online orders.
“I brought pizza, but I feel helpless about not being able to do more,” one Tijuana resident told Rest of World, asking not to be identified since smuggling things through the border wall is prohibited, according to Mexican law. “I see their desperation because there is not enough for everyone, and it breaks my heart.”