Trapped at the Border: Asylum seekers protest Matamoros camp conditions

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Trapped at the Border: Asylum seekers protest Matamoros camp conditions

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On October 25, 2020, over fifty of 1000+ people in the Matamoros Border Camp gathered along the barbed-wire fence to protest their living conditions. The Migrant Protection Protocols (M.P.P.), a Trump Executive Order, requires many Spanish-speaking asylum seekers to stay in Northern Mexico until granted a court date. In March 2020, the administration sealed U.S. borders and closed immigration courts as part of the COVID-19 emergency response. Many asylum seekers trapped in the camps may never get a full hearing.

Although protests could provoke retaliation from Mexican and U.S. immigration officials, these families demonstrated because they felt desperate. As in much of the southern border, cartels plague the Brownsville-Matamoros region. Many South and Central American migrants have experienced kidnapping, theft, extortion, and rape on their journeys through Mexico. In the camps, bounded by a fifteen-foot fence and heavily armed security forces, they face daily threats from poisonous snakes, hurricanes, flooding, and unsanitary conditions. Because the Mexican government does not give camp occupants sufficient resources, nonprofit organizations like Catholic Charities and Team Brownsville provide food, water, and medical care. On the day of the protest, two U.S. citizens from a Methodist ministry stood with demonstrators inside the camp.

The asylum seeker who organized this demonstration sent her two daughters (ages 9 and 11) across the Rio Grande, accompanied only by a cartel-affiliated coyote (guide), to turn themselves into Customs and Border Protection (CBP). While she misses her daughters every day, she believes that separation is safer for them than remaining in Mexico or returning to Honduras. She trusts that God will protect everyone in the Matamoros camp because their cause is just. After the protest, I held her hand through the gate’s wire diamonds and promised to pray.

Some protesters held signs with Bible verses like Matthew 25:35-40, while others called for the protection of LGBTQ+ migrants and an end to MPP. Many protesters addressed the U.S. presidential election. Voten inteligentemente, one sign reads – vote intelligently. Joe Biden promised that, if elected, he would repeal M.P.P. within the first hundred days of his presidency. Asylum seekers realize that without a leadership change, they have very little chance of entering the U.S. I witnessed this reality while I stood in an hour-long customs line, waiting to cross the International Bridge back into Brownsville. The line held a mix of Mexican and U.S. citizens, including a family carrying spider-shaped piñatas and orange-frosted cupcakes for a Halloween party. A group of two adults and three children passed me in line. I watched them approach CBP officers, a journalist following close behind. Five minutes later, a security officer was escorting the family back to Matamoros. The journalist noticed me watching and stopped to explain: “They asked for asylum, but CBP said no. They have to wait in Mexico.”

“No somos malas personas. Solo queremos vivir.” The mother repeated this phrase like a mantra as she passed us, holding her six-year-old daughter’s hand. We are not bad people. We just want to live.

*This is a photograph that I took on my cell phone outside the Matamoros, Mexico border camp on Sunday, October 25, 2020. Faces are blurred to protect their privacy.

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This item was submitted on November 10, 2020 by Aubrey Parke using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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