Videos taken by an aid worker in Reynosa, Tamaulipas Monday night show officials from various agencies forcing asylum seekers clear their tents and belongings from the sidewalks near the the camp of an estimated 2,000 migrants in Plaza de la República. Under Title 42, U.S. officials have been expelling migrants who try to cross the border in the RGV to Reynosa. Thousands of men, women, and children attempting to seek asylum in the United States have been returned to the city under the policy.
Title 42, the public health order implemented in March 2020 under then-acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, shut down the U.S. asylum system and gave officials the authority to expel anyone attempting to cross into the United States without the ability to seek protection. By September 2021, over one million expulsions had taken place under the policy.
Title 42 at minimum violates U.S. immigration law and the country’s non-refoulement obligations under international refugee law, immigration experts say. The Biden administration has refused to rescind the order despite repeated warnings from immigration advocates that Title 42 is placing lives at risk.
Volunteers and aid workers on both sides of the border report that Reynosa’s migrant shelters, Senda de Vida and Casa de Migrantes, are full. The city of over 600,000 just south of McAllen, TX, has been the site of turf wars between several cartels and their various offshoots, placing people in the camp at risk of being trafficked, kidnapped, extorted, assaulted, or murdered. Aid workers have for months warned that kidnappings, trafficking, and rape occur daily.
The state of Tamaulipas remains under a U.S. State Department Level 4: Do Not Travel warning, the same level the department currently rates Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.
In the videos, camp residents are shown in the videos moving sleeping bags, deconstructing tents, and consoling each other as red and blue lights from law enforcment vehicles flash in the surrounding streets.
“La policia viene con armas y con muchas patrullas, intimidado, y no dejan grabar con el argento que es delito y segun con ‘amabilidad’ pero lo hacen intimidado que no podemos grabar videos,” one camp resident wrote in response to the sweep. “No quieren que publiquen según ellos es delito, pero es por q no quieren q se sepa lo que hacen.”
“Tenemos miedo, pero confiamos en Dios.”
Nonprofit and NGO networks have been working to expand the Senda de Vida shelter and house as many migrants as possible in apartments that are safe and not under cartel control, even funding construction to expand Senda de Vida’s capacity to 1,000 in 2021.
Reynosa officials last year began pushing to evict and demolish the shelter, citing a “high risk“ for flooding per an International Boundary and Water Commission letter. Senda de Vida, currently operating at three times its normal capacity to get migrants out of the plaza, has served people in the same location for nearly 15 years. In July, a Mexican court issued a temporary injunction blocking the shelter’s demolition.
According to a recent report from one aid group operating in the Rio Grande Valley, well over 1,000 people live at Senda de Vida, over 100 more are staying at Casa de Migrantes, and volunteers suspect there are close to 1,500 people living in cheap apartments near the shelters. They expect thousands more are living in the outskirts of Reynosa. The group says it’s difficult to house migrants in government shelters where officials can deport them, as well as in church sanctuaries, from which migrants have been illegally removed in the past.
A collective of NGOs has been constructing a large new compound, called Senda II, on a nearby baseball field where some 2,000 migrants currently in the plaza will relocate. Migrants with construction expertise have themselves helped build the security walls. The organizations funding the project expect it to be completed in the next few weeks, though time is running out to do so as the plaza faces likely eviction in the near future, and it’s dangerous for people to be in the plaza to begin with.
Those working with the migrants don’t expect the need for shelter to disappear. “Survival is becoming more and more tenuous for families with children in the South. Gangs are now forcibly recruiting boys and girls at the age of ten for sexual purposes or to work in the drug trade. Those who refuse to turn over their children are killed. Once they arrive in Reynosa they remain at great risk. Kidnappings, rapes, and trafficking are daily occurrences. If and when the border reopens, there will still be a great need for more migrant housing,” the RGV-based group wrote in an update this month.