This article was reported for The Brownsville Herald on August 27, 2020 with the help of journalists Nubia Reyna and Bernice Garcia.
A body was found in the Rio Grande on Wednesday afternoon, according to reports from local media, humanitarian aid workers, and asylum seekers who discovered the body.
Video shared by residents of a camp of asylum seekers in Matamoros past the Gateway International Bridge showed Mexican authorities recovering the body by towing it behind their boat late Wednesday afternoon.
In a span of less than 24 hours, two more bodies were allegedly discovered in the river near Calle Galeana in the Moderna neighborhood in Matamoros, not far from the B&M International Bridge — one on Wednesday night, and the second on Thursday morning, according to Matamoros-based media.
Reports included photos of the bodies at the location near Moderna, partially submerged next to the river bank on Mexico’s side. The first was allegedly identified as a 26-year-old male. The second man remained unidentified but was discovered wearing a plaid shirt and denim pants, according to Matamoros-based media.
Asked to confirm, the Federal Police in Matamoros on Thursday morning said they weren’t aware of the deaths. Protección Civil could not be reached by press time — likely due to a visit paid to the city by Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Thursday.
“Another life! A young 23 old refugee was found dead by the side of the Rio Grande today,” Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley said in a post after the first body was discovered Wednesday afternoon.
“How many more lives must the river take before MPP stops! Families, children, babies suffering because we refuse to let them in the US to follow a process for asylum. Why? We all watched in tears as the body was being dragged by the boat.”
Pimentel said on Thursday that the identity of the person discovered near the camp remains a mystery. Aid workers reported two residents missing from the camp late Wednesday night— potentially a young mother and her child.
Volunteers who spoke about the body’s discovery were incredulous that law enforcement dragged the deceased down the river with residents of the camp — many of whom are children — watching from the levee.
Those who have worked with camp residents for months speculated that the death may be the result of an uptick in river crossings.
Frustration over the shutdown of the U.S. asylum system under covid-19 and indefinite postponements in asylum cases for those in the “Remain in Mexico” program is amplifying daily.
Cartels and gangs are known to control the areas along the Rio Bravo in Mexico, beating, extorting, and killing migrants who try to cross without paying up.
“If this is a message that no one better cross without a coyote, they’re sending it clearly,” said one aid worker.