A family of asylum seekers on Friday presented themselves at the Gateway International Bridge between Matamoros, Tamaulipas and Brownsville, Texas to receive new notices to appear in their postponed asylum proceedings under the Trump administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ program (Migrant Protection Protocols, MPP).
The Executive Office for Immigration Review postponed MPP hearings under the March 20 CDC order that shut down nonessential travel along the entire U.S./Mexico border. Families seeking refuge in the United States who meet the program’s criteria (and some who don’t) are returned to Mexico and have been asked to show up at the bridge to receive new notices to appear. This is in part because the U.S. government cannot mail court documents to the estimated 2,500 people living in tents across the river, and although they’re in detained status, there’s no direct contact with U.S.-based immigration officials. Organizers supporting the distribution of supplies and other life-saving aid in the absence of support from either the United States or Mexico have named the area Camp Dignity.
Josue, who alongside his family runs a tienda in the camp where asylum seekers can get supplies and medication purchased with donations, described his experience navigating EOIR’s odd guidance at the hands of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. “We are waiting here. I don’t know why everything is paralyzed. There may have been a change. I don’t know, but we are here waiting. Waiting for nothing. No process. Everything has stopped. The documents are on the table but I don’t know why the officials do not continue with the process,” he said.
Josue expressed feeling abandoned by those with platforms in the United States powerful enough to expose the program for what it is. “The hours pass. Time goes on. They attend to the people that are from Mexico that cross into the United States every day, but it’s paralyzed, the MPP program. Always there is a report — defenders of people, lawyers, reporters don’t do their job — what MPP is. We are all paralyzed here. The documents are on the table. But, I don’t know why they’re trying to do something different.”
Later, he sent a video describing the process. “I present myself. I walk in a line towards the American police. When I present myself, behind me comes a person, a videographer from England filming me. When I present myself and I give the documents to the official and he sees that the videographer is filming, he leaves and does not allow his name to show, as he has on uniform — last name Reyes,” he said.
“He made me wait for a little while and he gave me the documents to the side, to avoid showing his name on his shirt to the videographer that was there, and did not ask much. He just grabbed the document, the paper with the appointment and where the five names of the family were listed and said, ‘Yes, now go.’ A month ago, I came here on the 12th, I presented myself, there was a videographer, no lawyer with us. I went ahead along because there were many people in line that last month and I left my family behind in line. When I got my turn with the official, he said, ‘Hey, there are five names. Why did you come alone? Go bring them, or I won’t attend to you. Today, he didn’t tell me absolutely anything.”
This time, the official took the paper listing Josue and his family members, told him, “Thank you”, and asked him to get in line. Josue added, “He did not ask me absolutely anything, but had me waiting for a little while to see if the videographer would stop recording. This is what we see on this border of Matamoros — that the officials, judges — when they see a lawyer or a reporter with us, they try to do their job differently. They are even surprised to see those people with us, and with that, we know and see that there is a lot of injustice — that they are working their own way that has been taught by the president of the United States, Donald Trump. When they see a lawyer, or a reporter, or a videographer, they work differently. With more kindness. They look at us differently.”
In another video, Josue described conditions in the camp. The weather has been searing hot in the Rio Grande Valley, making it difficult to be outside. “This is the reality that we share with you. These are the port-a-potties. As you can see, it’s full of flies. A lot of infection. And, we have to deal with these flies because when we’re sleeping, they get into the carpet where we lay down. They get in our eyes, on the faces of all the children, the adults. When we eat, we can’t eat peacefully. We feel imprisoned. We feel worse than trash in this place. This is the reality of this flycatcher that comes here to the portable toilets. They are all over the camp, near the food we eat, the meals we eat, and when we’re sleeping. It is unfair that they have us here. It is very unjust that we are waiting here at this border. It is very unjust. It should not be like this. Please, human rights, United Nations. Please president, please laws, defenders of human rights, we are here suffering. We are here living worse than animals. We are here like a dead animal with these flies.”
A third video shows a view of the camp. Residents along the river are raking, cleaning, and doing laundry. Josue said, “This is camp #1. As always, we are united doing general cleaning. We are cleaning a bit because we are very worried about the insects from the brush, the snakes. And we have always been camp #1, always united, working together collectively, all men and women. Men, women, and children — everyone, always working collectively because we are people of example and we are clean.”
“Everyone, everyone, everyone is helping. This is what I inform you. We are the people of camp #1, collective cleaning. We work together as a team. Here at camp #1, we don’t need to be ordered around. Here, we work as a team, thanks be to God. We are united. We hope that if there is a need of one, or two, or three, or however many to help, that you help, because it’s a benefit to all of us. We believe that we are good people. We try to get along like family. We try to clean. We try to be a team. We are not bad people. We are good people. Thank you.”
Ruby Fuentes and Tyler Henson contributed translations to this article.