Storm Season Has Arrived in the Rio Grande Valley. Asylum Seekers Need Help

Asylum Seekers awaiting hearings under the Trump administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ program (Migrant Protection Protocols, MPP) in a camp along the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Tamaulipas are dealing with flooding again with the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) predicting more thunderstorms through the end of the week.

Videos posted by Team Brownsville on Facebook, taken by asylum seekers in touch with volunteers, showed an overnight thunderstorm flooding dirt pathways and tents. Even those dwellings lifted off the dirt by wooden palettes, purchased in bulk by aid workers in Matamoros, appeared partially submerged in water. Organizers with Team Brownsville, Resource Center Matamoros, Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley, Global Response Management, and more are collaborating to respond to needs as they arise.

Video Credit: Team Brownsville

An asylum seeker who one video can be seen standing in a muddy ditch of water rising above his ankles. Other videos sent to aid workers in Brownsville, Texas showed the river — usually low due to lack of rainfall in recent months — nearly full and approaching its banks on Sunday morning. By 3 p.m., another storm was pouring rain in downtown Brownsville, roughly half a mile from the camp in Matamoros.

On May 24, the Resource Center and its staff of asylum seekers laid out 40 tons of gravel along camp pathways to mitigate flooding and the spread of mud as part of an ongoing sanitation and hygiene project. Two days later, the center brought in 80 more tons of gravel for distribution that volunteers have combined with pumps and irrigation ditches dug out of the mud by residents will help drain water back into the river. The center is asking for rain coats, umbrellas, and rubber boots. Donations sourced in the United States must be purchased new and cannot be transported across in bulk.

Video Credit: Team Brownsville

Resource Center staff said early Sunday afternoon that nobody had asked for replacement tents, but organizers were still assessing the situation. It will continue to develop as storms roll in and hurricane seasons begins. “The storm two weeks ago began the tent destruction with 100 of 800 destroyed immediately and at least 100 more that needed to be replaced with damage,” said Andrea Rudnik, Volunteer Coordinator for Team Brownsville. “Each time we get heavy rains, more tents collapse under the weight. I can’t give an exact number, but I can say tents made for weekend tent camping will disintegrate under the stress of rain, winds, and sun beating down.”

Though the Valley’s heat may dry out tents in-between storms, high humidity means that mold will likely grow inside the dwellings. Aid workers have also set their sights on the official start of hurricane season on Monday. As noted by Exectutive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Sister Norma Pimentel during a visit by the Hispanic Caucus in January, the levee where the camp is located can and will flood in the event of a hurricane. “Over the course of this rainy season, not thinking about hurricanes, we may have to replace nearly all of the tents. With a hurricane, all bets are off and everything could go at once,” Rudnik said of the situation.

Video Credit: Asylum Seekers in Matamoros

The Valley-based grassroots networks responsible for sustaining the camp of an estimated 2,500 asylum seekers continue to emphasize that they have not and will not abandon those they’re supporting across the river. All of them are asking for donations to sustain those with ongoing cases who simply want their claims properly heard. MPP hearings are currently postponed past June 22. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) suspended in-person document service on May 10 and is asking those with hearings before June 22 to “present themselves at the port of entry identified on their tear sheet one month later than the date indicated on their most recently noticed date.”

In combination with the shutdown of the U.S./Mexico border to nonessential travel, which resulted in the shutdown of the asylum system along the southern border in violation of both U.S. and international law, advocates worry that those who have been awaiting court hearings on the streets of northern Tamaulipas for months will be left without real options. Consider donating to the people-based networks protecting those who have fled violence and unlivable conditions asserting their right to apply for asylum at our border.