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Petaluma photographer documents migrant caravan

As a caravan of migrants from Central America approached the southern U.S. border, Joshua Torres decided to go and bear witness. An aspiring photo journalist from Petaluma, Torres, 26, grabbed his camera gear and hopped on an overnight Greyhound bus to San Diego.

Arriving early in the morning, he checked into a hostel, dropped off his bag, and headed to the Tijuana side of the border, where he encountered squalid camps and hundreds of migrants yearning to seek asylum in the U.S.

“I felt like this was a good opportunity to see a moment in history,” the Petaluma High School graduate said. “I wanted to capture something that is bigger than just me.”

For the next two days, Torres wandered the makeshift camps that have sprouted up in a Tijuana sports complex. He spoke with migrants about their journey and photographed some of their most intimate moments.

Torres, who plans on studying journalism at Santa Rosa Junior College, said he gained unique access to migrant groups because of his background. A fluent Spanish speaker, his father is from El Salvador and his mother is from Nicaragua.

“I found that I could relate to them,” he said. “I just wanted to be there and document it.”

In the camps, Torres saw people sleeping outside and children defecating on the ground. Migrants were running low on food and water. Some were arrested by Mexican authorities. One mother of three children went out of the camp to find food and her family said she had not returned.

Torres said he saw some who appeared to be gang members. Most of the wave of migrants currently at the border are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and are fleeing violence in their countries. They hope to seek asylum in the U.S., but the issue has been complicated by President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policy. Trump has sent thousands of troops to the border, and some migrants have clashed with border officials.

Torres first became interested in photography after he found his father’s camera in a closet and started playing around with it. He said he normally shoots film, but decided to go digital on his trip to the border in order to capture the immediacy of the situation.

“I wanted to get the images quickly,” he said.

A former professional skateboarder, he got around in Mexico on his skateboard. As the world’s media descended on the border, Torres rubbed elbows with journalists from CNN, the BBC and other major outlets. He said it was his first taste of professional photojournalism, something he wants to pursue as a career.

“I got excited about it,” he said. “It’s kind of dangerous. Photojournalism is all I want to do. I just want to keep documenting things like this.”

When he’s not taking classes at SRJC, Torres works at the Shuckery restaurant in downtown Petaluma. He said he is considering returning to the border to take more photos.

In the meantime, he hopes to share his images with people so that they can see for themselves what is happening along the border.

“I want to show people what they can’t see,” he said. “That’s what I saw. This is my visual interpretation of the situation.”

You can see more of his work at JoshuaTorresPhotography.com.

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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