Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Abandoned by the U.S. Media, the Migrant Caravan Rolls Into Mexico City

In a broad-brimmed straw hat and an airy linen shirt, Oscar Cruz Lopez, the municipal secretary of Juchitan, Oaxaca, surveyed the crowds at the city’s new bus station. Before him sprawled about 6,000 people who had spent the night on the grounds. As church members served chicken stew on paper plates, taxi drivers circled the bus station, offering rides into the center of town for 15 pesos (about 75 cents). Nuns in white habits bandaged the battered feet of exhausted men and women. The Central American migrant caravan—the group of undocumented people whose journey northward briefly riveted the U.S. media—had arrived.

In the weeks before the midterm election, President Donald Trump made the case that this group of Honduran and Guatemalan migrants and asylum-seekers constituted a grave national security threat—an “invasion” force of criminals, terrorists, and unspecified “Middle Eastern” people. Trump ordered 5,000 active-duty troops to the border in a mission dubbed “Operation Faithful Patriot,” promising to triple that figure if necessary. Immediately after the election, conservative media coverage of the caravan vanished, “Faithful Patriot” was scrapped, and the menace posed by the band of migrants apparently evaporated.

The migrants themselves, however, did not. And for Mexican authorities, this march is no election-season stunt: It’s an ongoing humanitarian and political challenge, one largely borne by the towns and cities along the way that are engaged with the day-to-day realities of managing a massive migration. As the caravan has made its way across Southern Mexico, they’ve been met with a mix of local assistance and federal-level hostility. In many ways, this tension mirrors the one in the U.S., where so-called sanctuary cities have clashed with the White House over immigration policy.

Migrants rest beneath a makeshift shelter in Juchitan, Mexico. (Martha Pskowski/CityLab)

Perhaps no town has been more welcoming to the migrants than Juchitan.

“Last year after the earthquake, Juchitan was the most impacted city in the whole country,” Cruz Lopez told CityLab, remembering the 8.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Oaxaca in September 7, 2017. The earthquake killed 45 here, and the town’s famous market was reduced to rubble. Juchitan is still trying to rebuild, but this city of 90,000 was one of the largest municipalities the migrant caravan crossed when it arrived on October 30. Despite pressing local needs, the municipal government and local groups rallied to provide food, water, medical care, and shelter. “This society knows what struggle is,” Cruz Lopez said. “And when our help is needed, we show our solidarity.”

Fear—of the caravan itself, and of those who prey upon its members—has stalked this gathering since it departed from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on October 13. By the time the caravan crossed into Mexican soil on October 21, it had grown to 7,000 people. Traveling together in such numbers provides safety—Central Americans face the risk of kidnapping, robbery, and extortion while traveling through Mexico—and also lessens the risk of deportation, which is considerable. Mexican authorities deport thousands of Central Americans every year. In 2017, 94,500 people were deported to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, outpacing deportations for those nationalities from the U.S. by a whopping 20,000.

But travel logistics for such a vast gathering are complex: Without legal documentation, the group cannot reliably travel on inter-city buses, so they walk or hitch rides. In some towns in Oaxaca and Chiapas, bus and taxi drivers offered service to members of the caravan; in others, they refused. Several bus companies in the Oaxaca City area released a statement on October 31, saying that they would not provide service to members of the migrant caravan, in order to follow transit laws and “to put the interests of the citizens of Oaxaca above all others.”

As the group pushed northward in punishing heat, the support of small towns along the way has been critical. Cruz Lopez said that the city’s government started mobilizing to support the migrant caravan once they heard it would be passing through. Juchitan is in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a region that stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico that Central American migrants have transited for years on the freight train known as La Bestia. Juchitan itself was founded by the Zapotec people in the 15th century; Juchitan’s people are proud of their heritage, and you are as likely to hear Zapotec spoken on the city streets as Spanish.

“This pueblo has a history,” said Cruz Lopez. “It is a community that has fought for justice, that believes in solidarity.”

Many residents interrupted their preparations for the Day of the Dead ceremonies in Juchitan, known as Xandu’, to volunteer in support of the caravan. City police oversaw security, and city employees joined caravan members in gathering trash around the grounds. Along with international nonprofits such as the Red Cross, Oxfam and Caritas, Cruz Lopez said that at least 20 local organizations, from radio stations to high school students, were helping the caravan with food, medical care, and other social services.

A mobile medical clinic provides health care to migrants in Mexico City. (Martha Pskowski/CityLab)

Among those volunteers: Nadxielii Nanaxhi Santiago Toledo, 28, who was helping assemble dozens of sandwiches in a makeshift kitchen. “We’ve been preparing for two days,” said Santiago Toledo, who is a member of Juchitan’s muxe community (a “third gender” specific to the region’s Zapotec culture).

“Wherever our Central American friends go next in the caravan, I hope they are treated with affection, because they aren’t coming here seeking problems,” she said. “They are just pursuing their dreams.”

Juchitan was also the first stop of the caravan where Mexico City agencies provided medical and legal aid, as part of the “Humanitarian Bridge” organized by the Mexico City Human Rights Commission (CDHDF). Doctors provided check-ups to members of the caravan, and according to a CDHDF representative, pregnant women were able to have ultrasounds for the first time since the caravan began.

The first members of the caravan began arriving in Mexico City this week. In contrast to Southern Mexico, where violence against undocumented migrants is commonplace, the capital city provides relative safety. Most importantly, Mexico City’s new constitution, which went into effect in September, ensures the protection of migrants, regardless of their legal status. The constitution says that all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers will be protected under criteria of “hospitality, solidarity, interculturality, and inclusion.” Former Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera named Mexico City a sanctuary city in 2017.

The city government runs programs for deportees, asylees and refugees through the Secretariat for Rural Development and Community Equity (SEDEREC). The caravan will test the city’s capacity to support thousands of vulnerable people—some of whom may decide to stay. “The city has to put its best foot forward, and that means showing our solidarity,” said Nashieli Ramírez, president of the Mexico City Human Rights Commission (CDHDF).

The caravan is staying at a stadium at the Magdalena Mixhuca sports complex. After the heat of Southern Mexico, temperatures in Mexico City have been chilly, with steady rains pounding the capital in recent days. City staff handed out blankets and clothing. Medical care was available on site, as well as hot meals. As experts predicted, the size of the caravan has dwindled in recent days, as members decide to return to their home countries, or forge ahead at a faster clip. The Mexico City government estimates that 4,600 people remain at the stadium.

The migrant trail through Mexico usually skirts around Mexico City: It’s in small towns where the phenomenon of Central American migration has been most visible. The caravan’s arrival in the capital is forcing Mexico’s national politicians to confront the reality of migration: It’s as if 5,000 refugees turned up on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall.

In Mexico City, the migrant caravan is being sheltered in a sports complex. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

So far, Mexico City is receiving the caravan with hospitality, but some residents question that gesture. On social media, some have complained that caravan members come before victims of recent floods in the Mexican state of Nayarit. The polling firm Mitofsky found that one in three Mexicans thinks the caravan members should be pressured to return to Central America.

The concerns of some Mexicans were reflected on Sunday, when a reporter asked Mexico City Minister of the Interior, Guillermo Orozco Loreto, how much money the city was spending to provide humanitarian aid. He replied sternly, “We are guaranteeing humanitarian aid and we will spend whatever is necessary to support these people.”

Civil society organizations in Mexico City, such as Cafemin, a shelter for migrants and refugees, are also contributing support, and other volunteers are providing legal clinics to advise caravan members of their options, whether in Mexico or on the U.S. border. Ramírez stressed that Mexico City does not have jurisdiction to resolve the legal status of caravan members, but the city was prepared for 5,000 people to stay at the stadium and to provide humanitarian support for, “as long as necessary.”

For the exhausted caravan members, the Mexico City stop provided a welcome opportunity to rest. But most express the desire to continue north. Among them was Enio Castillo, 45, who lived in Tampa Bay, Florida, for 18 years. He worked in construction and landscaping in Florida and says he was placed in deportation proceedings after a traffic stop earlier this year. He wants to return to U.S. because, he said, “in my own country I don’t feel at home anymore.”

Castillo hopes to return to Florida, despite the president’s anti-immigrant policies. “Trump can say lots of things, but there’s a Congress that’s below him,” Castillo said. “They have the last word. But I don’t know what Trump’s problem is with immigrants.”

Castillo had nothing but good things to say, however, about the hospitality of the Mexicans he has met along the way. “I don’t have any complaints about the treatment here,” he says. “Mexico is a country where people open up their hearts to you. Even if it’s just a taco, or a plate of food, they will share it with you.”

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Mexico City’s Architects of Destruction

On September 19, 2017, a 7.1 earthquake rocked Mexico City, killing 369 people in the area and damaging hundreds of buildings.

The timing of quake was uncanny: 32 years earlier, to the day, an 8.0 quake killed thousands and left entire neighborhoods unrecognizable; 5,000 bodies were recovered from the rubble in Mexico City, but the total death toll was probably twice that.

The date wasn’t the only eerie similarity between the two quakes. In 2017, two apartment buildings in the Hipódromo and Del Valle neighborhoods collapsed, killing 23 people in all. In 1985, one collapsed apartment building in the Roma neighborhood left over 120 dead. The three doomed buildings, built between 1978 and 1980, shared the same engineer, a man named Max Tenenbaum. He either designed or supervised these buildings’ construction.

After the 1985 earthquake, Tenenbaum was charged with “diverse homicides and occupational professional responsibility,” as the New York Times reported at the time, and he fled the country to escape an arrest warrant. But he returned to Mexico and by November 1988 had resumed work as an engineer. The Mexico City government renewed his license as a “Director of Structural Security” in December 2017, just months after the earthquake in which two of his buildings fell.

This is one of the revelations in a new investigation from the newsroom of the nonprofit Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI). The report, “Why Did My Building Fall?” was released on September 11; it enlisted 30 journalists, researchers and designers to carry out a post-mortem on buildings that collapsed in the 2017 quake. Based on more than 800 public information requests and dozens of interviews, the investigation reveals how developers and city officials failed to implement stricter building codes that were meant to prevent another tragedy like 1985. Developers frequently cut corners to save costs, while city officials turn a blind eye. Neighbors report unsafe construction sites to authorities, who rarely step in to enforce the law.

“We can have the best building code in the world, but that code isn’t being enforced,” Thelma Gómez Durán, a Mexican investigative journalist who edited the project, told CityLab. “There is no authority that’s making sure that it’s put into action. To save money, companies are skipping over these regulations.”

The corruption issue is complicated by Mexico City’s challenging geography. A sprawling metropolitan region of about 21 million people built atop a drained lakebed, it’s a city that is facing severe threats from the effects of climate change. Due to rapid urban growth, groundwater is being drained more quickly than it is replenished. The depletion of subterranean aquifers causes subsidence and massive sinkholes in the eastern boroughs of the city like Iztapalapa, Xochimilco and Tlahuac. Hundreds of houses in these boroughs were damaged on September 19, when the porous soil under them shifted.

After the disastrous 1985 quake—and the public outrage that followed—the Mexican government promised building-code reform and stiffer code enforcement. A New York Times report six days after the quake quoted an architect saying, “We have very good techniques for building here. But some owners and contractors do not pay attention to building codes, and the Government does not enforce them.”

In the wake of the disaster, a new building code introduced the figure of “Director Responsible for Construction” (DRO in its Spanish acronym), who certifies that construction projects follow code, and is legally liable if violations are found up to ten years later.

But in the first hours after the 2017 earthquake, an alarming pattern emerged: Buildings constructed since the new code was adopted had collapsed, along with older structures. In some cases, apartments sold just months earlier were rendered uninhabitable by structural damage.

In their review of 28 collapsed structures, MCCI identified several different causes behind building failures. In multiple cases, DROs were not held responsible for flagrant violations. MCCI links one DRO, Fernando Méndez Bernal, to two new apartment buildings that were damaged in the earthquake. Both buildings, built from 2006 to 2008 and 2016, were found to have used subpar construction materials. Builders deviated from the blueprints, without assessing the safety of these modifications. But instead of being sanctioned, Méndez Bernal entered city government, serving as an advisor to the director of the Secretary of Urban Development and Housing (known as SEDUVI), which issues building permits and regulates zoning.

This revolving door between private industry and public service has protected architects and engineers who routinely violate the law, Gómez Durán said: “They’re not working for the citizens. They’re working for the companies and defending the interests of the companies.”

The site of the Bolivar 168 building collapse today. The mural on the wall reads “Not one more woman buried by corruption,” a reference to the many female textile workers killed in clandestine workshops in both the 1985 earthquake and in the Bolivar building in 2017. (Martha Pskowski/CityLab)

Unauthorized additions to buildings was another frequent factor in collapse. At Bolivar 168, an aging building filled with offices and small assembly plants, investigators suspect that a telecommunications antenna on the roof caused it to collapse. Fifteen people were killed, mostly women working at the various clothing businesses inside.

In another case, city officials left standing a billboard that had been slated for removal since 2015. The building collapsed, killing 11 people. The billboard is considered an “aggravating” factor.

An unauthorized billboard remains standing after this building collapsed. (Ginnette Riquelme/Reuters)

In a handful of new buildings that failed, developers skimped on rebar, struts, or structural beams that were required by law—unbeknownst to residents. This lack of information is a recurring issue, Gómez Durán said. Residents also have no way of knowing if a negligent architect or engineer was behind a building’s construction.

To research Tenenbaum, the engineer involved in the design and construction of three buildings that collapsed, the MCCI journalists used word-of-mouth. “We started to ask around with engineers,” Gómez Durán said. “A few of them told us that’s what Tenenbaum is known for: that his buildings fall down. We asked, ‘How is it possible that he still has a license?’”

Claudio González of MCCI interviewed Tenenbaum, who claimed that he “didn’t have anything to do with” the two buildings that collapsed in 2017. When MCCI presented him with construction documents bearing his signature, he said they were forged.

MCCI also found that the city lacked records of the blueprints or seismic stress calculations of many buildings—information that would have been useful for rescue crews to identify where victims may be trapped. In her account of apartment buildings in the Coapa neighborhood of Coyoacán, journalist Miriam Castillo writes, “It is easier to find the account of what Hernán Cortés found when he arrived in New Spain in the website of the General Archive of the Indies of the Spanish government than to find blueprints from the 1980s in Coyoacán.”

In several cases, neighbors had previously reported unsafe construction practices or building conditions to the city, but the authorities never acted. One woman in the Narvarte neighborhood had tweeted at officials after a 2014 earthquake, begging for her building to be inspected. It collapsed in the 2017 quake, killing one person. “If the city authorities had taken action at that time, they could have avoided some of these deaths,” said Gómez Durán.

Many buildings heavily damaged in the 2017 quake have yet to be repaired or demolished. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

Several factors play into the lax code enforcements issue. Mexico City is going through a construction boom, and some local officials have been hesitant to put the brakes on such a profitable sector. Corruption is rampant, with developers using bribes to grease the wheels at city agencies regulating construction. “There is a whole system that’s been designed to benefit everyone involved: public officials, DROs, developers,” said Gómez Durán. “They all protect each other. The citizens are left unprotected.”

MCCI’s report has been greeted with anger from residents since its release, with key findings repeated in dozens of Mexican media outlets. And it’s not the only recent investigation to implicate city authorities; on Monday, Huffington Post Mexico reported that Edgar Tungüi Rodríguez, head of the Reconstruction Commission of the Secretariat of Public Works, had awarded contracts for reconstruction projects to friends and family members.

But city leaders have so far largely avoided public comments. Officials at the Secretariat of Urban Development and Housing (SEDUVI), the Environmental and Zoning Prosecutor’s Office (PAOT) and the Reconstruction Commission at the Public Works Secretariat all declined CityLab’s requests for comments.

The ongoing quake recovery and reconstruction efforts will soon be passed to new federal and city administrations: A wave of reform-minded elected leaders are preparing to take office on December 1. Incoming president Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the left-wing Morena party ran on an anti-corruption platform. Morena also won in Mexico City, where a close associate of López Obrador, Claudia Sheinbaum, will became the city’s first elected woman mayor.

Sheinbaum has visited families displaced by the earthquake and promised improvements to reconstruction programs, but she was criticized for not attending the public presentation of the MCCI investigation. Sheinbaum was also borough chief in Tlalpan, where a school collapsed in the earthquake, killing 19 children and nine adults. City and borough officials had not detected modifications to the school building that violated code.

Gómez Durán says that reform can’t be limited to the construction industry: The city’s vulnerability to future disasters also depends on water usage, for example. In a warming world, the threats that Mexico City faces are only getting more deadly.

“Officials will have to work with scientists, engineers, and even with developers to examine our conscience [as a city],” she said, “and decide whether we want to continue repeating the story of 1985 or if we really want to build a city that is more resistant to earthquakes.”