Maricela Garcia, 9, played an accordion on the bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border. Luis Sinco/L.A. Times via Getty Images

How Southern California deported thousands of immigrant orphans

In the early 1990s, Southern California authorities dumped thousands of immigrant orphans into Tijuana. Waves of Mexican children had streamed across the border into California, many in flight from abuse and poverty, creating a small army of street children that took root under freeways and in parking lots.

Many resorted to stealing, peddling drugs, and huffing gasoline additives. Historian Kevin Starr gave an account in his book “Coast of Dreams”: “Malnourished, violently treated or sexually abused or both, unschooled, addicted to drugs, soon to join the more than five thousand homeless children roaming the streets of Tijuana — here were the truly wretched of the earth.”

Citing a lack of resources, the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego summarily sent thousands of the kids back to Mexico. Some, usually minor offenders, were deposited directly into the Tijuana jail. A Los Angeles advocate for migrant children who visited the jail found the conditions appalling. “They have no humanity,” she told the L.A. Times in 1991.

An opinion column in the L.A. Times offered another concern: “It seems inappropriate and unwise for a county government to be, in effect, carrying out its own foreign policy. The deportation of people from this country is properly the province of the federal government.” Timeline | L.A. Times (1991)

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