MATAMOROS, Mexico (Border Report) — An estimated 1,600 migrants living at a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, could be rounded up and forced to live at a stadium miles away from the border, according to a newspaper report and several volunteer organizations.
Rumors that the round-up could occur on Monday, Oct. 28, spread through the outdoor tent encampment after the Mexican newspaper El Bravo, which covers Matamoros and the rest of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, published an article on Friday laying out plans for the removal of the migrants from the base of the Gateway International Bridge across from Brownsville, Texas. According to the Spanish-language newspaper, Monday will “begin a final and total eviction of the migrants.” The eviction could take three days, and the migrants are to be moved to the Centro de Convenciones Mundo Nuevo stadium about 6 miles (10 kilometers) south of the bridge, the article says.
The newspaper quoted Municipal Public Security Officer Jorge Orizaga Castañeda saying that the move is to establish order, reduce the health and hygiene issues that have resulted from the tent encampment, and to prevent migrants from blocking of the bridge, which occurred on Oct. 10, and prompted U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to close the bridge for several hours.
It will to establish “greater control there and more security on the bridges,” Orizaga told El Bravo.
News of the anticipated move comes just as representatives of Amnesty International are arriving in South Texas this week to view the situation for themselves. The international human rights nonprofit is sending teams of volunteers to view facilities in Texas where migrant children are held, as well is scheduled to cross into Matamoros on Saturday morning to view the tent encampment. Some human rights watchers have told Border Report that they believe a round up is being scheduled to coincide with this visit so that Mexican authorities can appear to have addressed the problem.
On Tuesday afternoon, Border Report spoke with Francisco Galvan, a representative to the Texas Tamaulipas Trade Office and an adviser to Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca, who said he could not confirm that a round-up will take place, but did say that something has to be done to deter the migrants from living in the streets, expecting to be able to legally migrate to the United States, which he said he believes they have only about “a 2 percent chance to do.”
Galvan blamed the crisis on the Mexican federal government and its lack of enforcement of the country’s southern border with Guatemala.
“The federal government has to address the situation and solve it. Not Tamaulipas. Tamaulipas did not create this problem. Unfortunately we are suffering the consequences of an absurd decision by the Mexican federal government to open the southern border,” Galvan said.
When asked if the federal government has sought Cabeza de Vaca’s counsel on what to do with the migrants, Galvan responded: “No, not at all.”
He added that the governor offered a few months ago to help to establish one common location on the Texas-Mexico border for all of these migrants to be located. Known as MPPs, these migrants are part of the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which the Trump Administration began implementing on the Southwest border this year that requires asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico during their asylum hearing process.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said in a news release last week that MPP is part of several steps the Trump administration has taken to reduce illegal immigration through the southern border. “In the face of congressional inaction, we’ve taken significant steps to mitigate the loopholes in our asylum system, combat fraudulent claims and strengthen the protections we have in place to preserve humanitarian assistance for those truly in need of it,” Cuccinelli said.
Galvan said that the Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (OIM) had offered to build a $4 million shelter in Mexico for the MPPs at the base of the Laredo-Colombia Solidarity International Bridge in Nuevo Laredo, in the state of Nuevo Leon, which borders Tamaulipas to the east, and where all of the migrants arrested on the Texas-Mexico border could be housed. But Galvan said despite repeated attempts to coordinate with the U.S. State Department to ensure that all of the migrants would be sent through that one port of entry, Mexican officials never received a final confirmation from U.S. officials.
“We never got an answer from the Department of State in Washington. We wanted them to agree that they would deport everybody through the bridge of Colombia but we never got an answer from the MPP program so that shelter was not built. So we continue to receive people from every single bridge and it’s spread out across the border with the USA and it’s a big problem,” Galvan said.
In Matamoros, an estimated 100 migrants each day are added to the tent encampment at the base of the bridge, according to volunteers with Team Brownsville, which are one of the many volunteer organizations that have been providing food, clothing, water and hygiene and diapers to the migrants since the summer.
MPP was implemented in mid-July in South Texas, and since then the humanitarian shelters on the U.S. side, such as the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, are void of migrants. That center used to have upwards of 1,000 people per day; but now has next to no one. Same for a shelter in Del Rio that Border Report visited recently on its Border Tour. Instead, all of the migrants are living on the streets of Matamoros.
Jodi Goodwin, an immigration lawyer who goes to the encampment frequently and offers legal advice to the migrants, says the Mexican federal government has abdicated its responsibilities of these people. And she says she believes the United States has, also, by turning these migrants away.
If the migrants are forced to live at the stadium 6 miles inland, Goodwin says the volunteers will not be able to go help them.
“We won’t go. The legal team will not go, and my understanding is that none of the other organizations that provide humanitarian care will go either,” Goodwin told Border Report. “All humanitarian and legal services are standing in a united front that we won’t be able to go to provide services.”
Goodwin says she and others have heard the rumors that the migrants will be forced to leave the base of the bridge starting on Monday. “I think the Matamoros municipality is certainly pushing for it,” Goodwin said.
But she added that to do so could lead to the detriment of 1,600 stranded migrants, mostly women and children from Central America and Cuba, who have no funds or resources to care for themselves. Goodwin questions whether the Mexican authorities will provide meals twice a day, bottled water, legal services, and the like, as they have.
Goodwin added: “I don’t believe that the City of Matamoros has the resources to be able to care for them. The entire time they have been here, none of these services were provided by the city. Everything down to the last drop of water has been brought by volunteers.”
At the tent encampment on Monday, rumors of a round–up were discussed from tent to tent. And no one spoken to by Border Report said they favored leaving this area.
“No. We don’t want to go,” said Vanessa Villalobos, a Honduran, who has been living for three months at the tent city with her three children, ages 16, 9 and 6 months.
Part of the reason that Villalobos and others don’t want to leave is they worry that they won’t be able to return easily or quickly to the bridge for the asylum hearings. And they said they certainly don’t have the money for bus or taxi fare for a 6-mile ride.
As it is now, every migrant who is scheduled for an asylum hearing at the newly erected judicial tent city, which is located on the U.S. side of the bridge, must pay the 30 cents each to cross the bridge. And Goodwin says the majority of migrants do not have that much money.
On Monday, Villalobos had to pay a total of $1.50 for five of her family members to cross the bridge for what was scheduled to be a 3 p.m. hearing. They lined up four hours early, as instructed, and paid the crossing fee. But once at the judicial facility, they were told their judge was not available and they will have to return on Nov. 14. “What will we do? We don’t have more money,” she said.
Migrant Alexander Esquievel, of Honduras, said “95 out of every 100 people” at the tent encampment “don’t want to leave.” But he said “It’s getting colder and the nights are so hard. We don’t know what we can do.”
Behind Esquivel was a fence that used to be full of freshly-washed clothing that the migrants would hang to dry in the sun. But a couple of weeks ago, federal Mexican officials barred the migrants’ access to the Rio Grande, where they had been bathing and washing clothes, and that led to a protest on the bridge, which shut it down overnight.
Many migrants sat down on the bridge, and put children on the front line to prevent authorities from forcing them to disband, Border Report was told.
Galvan said that disturbance is nothing compared to what he expects will happen if this situation continues to fester.
“This is nothing. I think the problem is going to escalate if we don’t address the problem directly,” Galvan said. “We have to use patience and truth and speak with them of the reality of them legally going across and getting visas in the United States.”
Instead, he urges that the migrants take advantage of a visa work program provided by the Mexican authorities, and he encourages them to get jobs and assimilate into their society in Tamaulipas.
“It’s sad the situation. Trust me. Even as a state government we don’t give the cold eye to these people because we have been helping them with civil organizations but there’s not enough money to provide all that they need. They must either get jobs (in Mexico) or go home,” Galvan said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.
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