WESLACO, Texas (Border Report) — In the past two months, Frank and Mirabel Sedeño have given out 1,500 Bibles, tons of shampoo, tents, plastic tarps, and other critical supplies to migrants living in a tent encampment in the dangerous northern Mexican border town of Reynosa.
But for the evangelical pastor couple, the main goal is to give hope and faith to the 1,000 people who live in the makeshift encampment at a downtown plaza in the border city that is controlled by gangs and drug cartels, and is rife with kidnappings and murders.
Many migrants who end up at the camp sleep on the ground with no blankets or any other worldly possessions. What little possessions some came with, have been compromised recently as several inches of rain and torrential downpours continue to strike the Rio Grande Valley, the husband and wife told Border Report on Wednesday.
The Sedeños visit the encampment three to four times per week and stay at least 10 to 12 hours every time. They were at the camp until 1 a.m. on Wednesday helping to pair dozens of families into tents as the rain beat down on them.
“They were packed like sardines, but they were at least dry,” Mirabel, 42, said with a warm smile as they spoke to Border Report near some land they bought with the hopes of building a build a church soon in Weslaco in South Texas.
She is from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and she says she understands what it is to be a migrant, and what it is like to be homeless. She spent 40 days in federal custody in 2016 prior to receiving her permanent U.S. residency. She now believes that God had her undergo that experience so that she could better relate to the women and children and families whom she now ministers in Reynosa.
“The children are so sad, some are missing parents and siblings. Some of the women have been abused. They have so many needs,” she said in Spanish.
“We overall want to share the love of God to help them to know their value. That there is a God who helps them. And to extend a hand by providing them essential things, like hygiene, the word of God and snacks,” Frank said.
“They’re in the midst of a critical situation and overall in a dangerous place where there’s a lot of things going on,” he said.
The U.S. State Department has warned Americans not to travel to Tamaulipas, the northern Mexican border state where Reynosa is located. And specifically, U.S. officials have warned Americans not to go to Reynosa.
“We guide them through a little orientation not to trust anybody because it’s a high-risk area,” Frank said. “There are a lot of kidnappings that go on on both sides of the border that they face, and a lot of rapes so many different situations and that’s where we come in and we pray for them and we give them discipleship and have services and for the children.”
Frank is loath to talk more descriptively. As volunteers, he and his wife also could become victims if they were to upset the gangs and cartels that control Reynosa. Like most volunteers in this border city, they stick to a script of repeating that they are here to help the migrants ‘y nada mas’ (and nothing more). Meaning: They don’t go looking for trouble or reporting what else they see.
But it’s getting harder by the day, they said. So many migrants are sick right now with bronchitis and pneumonia and coronavirus in the camp. Children have sores on their skin and bodies. One little girl was vomiting blood and they wanted to drive her to a hospital, but they are advised to stay within the confines of the camp.
Pastors from other Mexican churches in Reynosa also send volunteers to help. And a collaboration of nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations from South Texas — including Angry Tias and Abuelas, Team Brownsville, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers — also send supplies, donations and volunteers to the camp.
But the numbers of migrants are so large and more keep coming daily, volunteers say it’s hard to keep up with their needs.
“There’s such a high demand. A lot of immigrants being deported,” Frank said.
Most have come since President Joe Biden took office, under the impression that his administration would be more welcoming than the Trump administration to asylum-seekers. But once they get to the border, they are hit with the grim realization that Title 42 travel restrictions still remain — put in place by the Trump administration to prevent the spread of coronavirus — which allows only essential workers to cross the border from Mexico.
And now, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants to impose jail sentences on any migrant who crosses illegally into Texas. He has called a Special Session of the Texas Legislature, which convenes on Thursday to take up border security, among other issues.
Many aren’t aware of Abbott’s plans, Frank said. Nor do they know of warnings by the Biden administration not to come to the border.
“They had that disillusion; they’re broken. They thought they’d be able to ask for asylum and be crossed to the U.S. but a lot of them are crying. Some want to return to their country and they have so much fear,” he said.
Recent heavy rains are not only dampening their belongings, but their spirits, also, they said. Storms have struck the region several times since early June, flooding the camp, washing away tents and bringing snakes and debris.
A flash flood watch remains for the Rio Grande Valley through Friday, KVEO reports.
About 300 migrants have been moved to a newly built extension area at Senda de Vida, a faith-based migrant shelter, about a mile away from the encampment.
But heavy rains are preventing the construction of a roof on the extension area, which currently is just a giant slab of concrete.
Team Brownsville has helped to purchase new tents, and Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley, which works in conjunction with Team Brownsville, is helping to build a brick wall around the shelter to help keep the migrants safe, Cindy Candia of Angry Tias and Abuelas told Border Report on Wednesday.
Candia said her group also is trying to find a building large enough to hold 100 migrants because the COVID-19 positive cases keep rising in the camp and they want to separate and quarantine families.
“Just in case. We don’t have 100 cases,” she said.
Earlier this week, the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers helped to relocate 20 migrants who have coronavirus into a large house and out of the tent encampment.
Moving the migrants is not easy because hotels and other locations must be thoroughly vetted so migrants aren’t preyed upon. A mother and her 10-year-old son were kidnapped recently after they were moved from the camp, Candia said.
The NGOs Global Response Management and Doctors Without Borders are providing free medical care at the camp.
GRM is a familiar site along the border camps in Tamaulipas, and for over two years provided free care at a tent encampment in Matamoros, where 3,000 people lived before it was shut down in March when most families were allowed to cross into the United States when the Biden administration did away with the “Remain in Mexico” policy.
Team Brownsville has ordered 100 new tents for the migrants, which should come this week. Another 100 tents are expected in the next two weeks, Andrea Rudnik told Border Report.
But it’s a race against time to help shelter the migrants, separate those with COVID-19 and protect and inform those new to the plaza of the dangers of the city.
In the meantime, the Sedeños say they will continue their ministry.
“We encourage them not to give up and to hold strong in the Lord,” Frank said. “We tell them that we personally have seen people from the camp crossing legally, and they might be able to.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.