Visiting Matamoros, a city of half a million people just over the Mexican border from Brownsville, TX, this weekend, I saw the MPP camp has grown so much in four weeks since I was there last. The camp is informally named for the “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy pushed by President Trump in recent months, also known less deceptively as “Remain in Mexico.” Even after passing a “credible fear interview” with a border or immigration agent and being assigned court dates in the U.S., these asylum seekers are forced back across the border, often to wait for months before their scheduled hearings.
Over 1,200 people including many children are living in the tent camp. The tents provide minimal shelter; people sleep on mats or concrete. Tents run all down the plaza and across the fence to the river bank of the Rio Grande. Hundreds of families are banded together in their tents, with camp stoves crafted from earth and tree trunks. Children play soccer, smile as you say hello and hug you. Everyone is friendly and gracious even as they live in uncertainty, unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
I visited Gaby Zavala at the Resource Center for Asylum Seekers in Mexico @ResouceCenterMatamoros, which she founded through the Asylum Seekers Network of Support.
In three short weeks of renting a former dental office right by the plaza near the Gateway Bridge to the US, the Resource Center is fully operational as a safe space to help asylum-seekers with their paperwork and provide legal consultations for asylum with hardworking immigration lawyers like Charlene D’Cruz
with Lawyers for Good Government.
Jodi Goodwin, also an immigration attorney, is often present in the plaza providing countless hours of legal aid and care.
They NEED TRANSLATORS to help translate asylum seekers’ statements. You can do this remotely and it is not difficult at all. You can also sign up to visit the center and translate there.
The Resource Center is also working to help families find work and be more self-sufficient so they do not have to remain homeless while waiting for their court dates in the U.S.
The Center also provides outdoor showers with privacy tents and clean water and toiletries so people do not have to bathe in the dangerous and unclean river.
You can support the center here:
The Resource Center is hosting a seven-day-per-week health clinic staffed by volunteer clinicians through Global Response Management, including a Cuban doctor who is seeking asylum himself. They treat respiratory infections and many other ailments. Just yesterday about 15 women were offered testing for pregnant mothers to help document their medical need. Immigration attorneys hope that these expectant mothers will be released from MPP and be given respite in the U.S. Global Response Management is funding the medical clinic. They have also recently raised funds for 200 flu vaccines to people in the camp with plans to administer more.
Circle of Health is also contributing to fund medical care.
@TeamBrownsville is one of the original aid groups in Matamoros and just provided 10 new portable toilets for the, delivered last night. There were only five previously, for 1,200 people. The camp cheered as the delivery truck pulled up. Team Brownsville along with other church groups continue to support meals for 1,200 almost daily, for breakfast and dinner. Marianela Ramirez-Watson of Good Neighbor Settlement House, a homeless shelter in Brownsville, generously offers its kitchen to prepare these large dinners. Volunteers can raise funds to sponsor and cook dinner with Team Brownsville.
The Escuelita de la Banqueta (“Sidewalk School”) teaches children in the camp on Sundays and provides fun activities thanks to Melba Salazar-Lucio and many volunteer teachers. Melba is happy to accept supplies for lessons, activities and snacks. One of her favorite activities is having the children write and share their own short stories.
Brendon Tucker, who started the kitchen with Sergio Cordova which has grown into Team Brownsville dinners, now works with the Resource Center full-time. He has been working on sanitation and water projects. He built a sink that allows people to wash their hands with safe water. He also built a water stand for safe, clean drinking water accessible right in the plaza. Asylum seekers are paid to help transport the water and set up the outdoor showers. Creating small jobs for asylum-seekers to earn money is awesome!
Brendon along with Kelly Escobar assists Gaby Zavala to oversee many details of the daily operations at the Resource Center. Together they strive to translate the camp’s needs into action. Walking through the camp next to Brendon, you hear children, teenagers and adults calling out “Fuera JOH!” after him. It is a protest cry popular in Honduras to call for the removal of its president. Brendon used to wear a “Fuera JOH” patch on his backpack which made asylum seekers feel solidarity and an immediate friendship with him.
Joshua Rubin of Witness:Tornillo, who started the witnessing movement that led to Tornillo, a child detention center in Texas, and the Homestead detention center in Florida being closed down, toured the camp on Friday and Saturday. If you are interested in helping to end MPP policy go here:
Dr. Jennifer Devine was there this weekend with students from her class from Texas State University to learn about conditions in the camp. You can learn more about Professor Devine at www.jenniferdevine.com
I am part of Austin Border Relief Volunteers facebook group where we keep you updated on these efforts and what help is most needed. Join the group!