CLER Faculty and Students Report Back from the US/Mexico Border

October 24, 2019

This week, Dr. Sondra Crosby and SPH students Yareliz Diaz and Claire Corkish led a conversation about their experiences at the US-Mexico Border, the humanitarian crisis in Matamoros and Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy:

“Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols – dubbed the “Remain in Mexico Policy”- have forced thousands of migrants to live in makeshift camps at entry points all along the border while waiting for their asylum case to be heard. 

The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) are a U.S. Government action whereby asylum seekers seeking admission to the U.S. from Mexico are returned to Mexico and wait outside of the US for the duration of their immigration proceedings. 

Close to 50,000 asylum seekers have now been returned to Mexico, where many of them have faced extreme levels of violence and dangerously squalid living conditions.

It’s currently estimated 2,000 people are living in the tent encampment in Matamoros, a city on the Mexico side of the border just steps from Brownville, Texas.

We visited Matamoros in September 2019 with Sera Bonds, a BU School of Public Health Alum and Mayra Garza, the founder of Mateo 25:35, a grassroots organization that brings food, tents, clothing and other supplies to migrants stuck in Matamoros. 

Mayra, along with many other individuals, spends countless hours collecting supplies and ferrying them on foot in small wagons across the Matamoros bridge. We brought toilet paper, children’s backpacks and clothes –and prenatal vitamins.

Matamoros is a city the US State Department has deemed too dangerous for Americans to visit due to the increasing and serious risk of violent crime: Matamoros is controlled by criminal cartels. Reports of murder, kidnapping, extortions and sexual violence are increasing.

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Pulling wagons with vital supplies of tents, diapers, toilet paper and clothes across the bridge to  Matamoros, where migrants are stuck waiting for asylum. 

Individual volunteers and small, grassroots organizations doing what they can to help an increasingly desperate situation-  people like Mayra represent the only humanitarian response to this crisis –

When we reached the camp we saw how squalid, over-crowded and dangerous it is.

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Conditions in the migrant encampment at the Matamoros International Bridge, Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

People in the encampment don’t have reliable access to potable water, places to wash or enough food. Those who do have shelter sleep in small, flimsy tents brought across the border by volunteers who struggle to keep up with need. 

Without tents, people make do with trash bags and cardboard. The camp smells of human waste and tent are piled on top of each other, without much space to walk between them. 

 They are forced to bathe and wash clothes and dishes in the Rio Grande – and to drink from it, when potable water is not available. These two portable toilets now serve over a population of 2,000. There is no system for trash disposal – it piles up on one side of the camp.

.There is no shade near the Matamoros bridge. Most spend the day struggling to find shade to keep cool in the unbearable South Texas heat. However, Mayra talked about her concern that soon the weather will change and people will struggle to stay warm.

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Girl clutches backpack donated by a volunteer group in Matamoros, Mexico. Hundreds of children and babies are stuck on the Mexico side of the border, malnourished and in constant danger. 

When it rains it floods – sometimes up to knee level in the tents and they have no real protection from the sewage or other waste when this happens.  

As numbers grow, it seems like people will become more and more desperate. Supplies that volunteers bring don’t cover all need. Things like toilet paper have to be rationed and are valuable to people. Twice a day, team Brownsville and other church groups bring food. But this food often runs out before everyone gets to eat.” 

 

Cover photo credit: Washington Post, Henry Romero (Reuters)

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