McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Sandra Andrade, an immigrant from El Salvador, has been living in a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, since October 2019. She is part of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, which forbade her from living in the United States during her asylum hearing process.
But on Monday, she told Border Report that she and hundreds in the camp have great expectations and are “hoping for a miracle” to be announced by President Joe Biden — possibly as early as Tuesday — that could allow them to cross the bridge into South Texas and to live in the United States while their cases are being decided.
“The people here are waiting and hoping,” Andrade, 40, said via phone. “Right now we have no resolution.”
In the background, the noisy voices of children could be heard. Andrade is a teacher at the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers where students gather to learn math, art, and reading while they live in tents in a fenced-off encampment that is under guard by Mexican immigration authorities on the banks of the Rio Grande.
All of Andrade’s own children are in the United States and she wants to cross to reunite with them, she said.
“Everyone is waiting. The children are waiting. The conditions here are bad,” Andrade said.
Andrade, like others in the encampment, have endured flooding after remnants of Hurricane Hanna in July knocked destroyed their tents, which are located in what used to be a city park just blocks from the Gateway International Bridge and across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
They have lived through rats swamping their tents, mosquitos biting them when they sleep, 100-degree-plus heat and some nights below freezing.
“This will be a big miracle,” Andrade said.
“This is a humanitarian crisis,” she told Border Report during a visit to the Matamoros camp in November, just days after Biden was elected. “It is something Señor Biden said he promised he will do within his first 100 days: To eliminate MPP and to restore asylum. … MPP is not constitutional.”
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jenn Psaki told media to expect striking changes to immigration policies to be announced Tuesday by the Biden administration. The White House also expects the Senate to confirm Alejandro Mayorakas as Biden’s new Secretary of Homeland Security.
“We are certainly hopeful he will be confirmed tomorrow and we have every intention of moving forward tomorrow with the immigration executive actions that we have discussed,” Psaki said.
Just hours after Biden took office, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was suspending the MPP program and not adding any more migrants to it. However, they said those currently in the program, like Andrade, “should remain where they are, pending further official information from U.S. government officials.”
Migrant advocates hope that information will come on Tuesday.
“We’re hoping for more information on the end of (the) ‘Remain in Mexico’ program tomorrow, and, in addition, we’re hoping the Biden administration continues its work to undo the harmful immigration legacy of the Trump administration,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy council for the American Immigration Council, told Border Report on Monday afternoon.
Hopes were bolstered even further Monday after the Biden administration filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the high court to remove two cases involving the border wall and MPP off the high court’s calendar. Both cases had been scheduled for later this month and challenged Donald Trump’s immigration policies. The case against MPP challenged whether it is legal.
Over 70,000 migrants have been placed in MPP since 2019, according to cases tracked by the Transactional Record Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University. That includes over 5,500 cases added since March, when the coronavirus pandemic began and the Trump administration stopped asylum cases and began immediate deportations of anyone caught crossing illegally into the United States in order to control the spread of the virus.
The majority of MPP cases — over 22,000 — have been assigned from immigration courts in El Paso, where the program was first implemented. Over 16,400 cases have been assigned in Brownsville at the Gateway International Bridge and 13,400 cases have been assigned at the port of entry judicial courts in Laredo, Texas.
Andrade has been among those migrants who have had to pay 30 cents each time to cross the Gateway International Bridge for court hearings. They are required to line up four hours prior to their hearing, and oftentimes hearings were scheduled at 8 a.m.
But since travel restrictions were imposed and asylum courts suspended, she has spent her days waiting in her tent with about 600 other migrants in the program. The bright spot being the days she teaches the children at the camp.
“Joe Biden has promised to end MPP, which is what he did, but he’s also promised to get the asylum-seekers who have been stuck in Mexico for over a year and half now out and across so they can wait for their U.S. trials here in America,” Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, director of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, said in a video posted to the nonprofit’s Facebook page. “The students inside the encampment in Matamaoros are still there. The Sidewalk School staff are still there. Everyone is still living outside in the woods.”
Rangel-Samponaro said those applying for asylum since the Jan. 20 orders were issued have been allowed to cross, but Andrade and others waiting are stuck on the other side.
“It’s like they get to skip the line. And that isn’t fair. They have waited their turn,” she said. “Help get these people across.”