MATAMOROS, Mexico (Border Report) — Giant Mylar balloons reading “BYE TRUMP” hung Saturday from a razor wire fence that surrounds a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, where hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants live across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.
News spread quickly from tent to tent on Saturday that Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden had been declared the next president by The Associated Press and several major news organizations, defeating Republican President Donald Trump. Biden has said he would dismantle strict immigration policies imposed by the Trump administration, polices that force migrants to live outside the United States, such as in this tent encampment, during their immigration proceedings.
Border Report went to the camp on Saturday afternoon but was not allowed inside by Mexican immigration officers who guard the only entrance way. But several migrants who live in the camp came outside its confines to speak with Border Report and all expressed elation that Biden had won. Some even shed a few tears as they said they hope that he will reverse strict immigration measures imposed during the Trump administration that might help them to more quickly and successfully make their asylum claims.
And the free school for migrant children that operates in the camp was throwing a party Saturday night to celebrate.
Most of the 600 or so migrants now living in the camp were placed in the Migrant Protection Protocols program, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires them to wait on Mexican soil during their U.S. immigration proceedings. The asylum process can take many months, sometimes years, and some of the migrants Border Report spoke with have been living in this filthy tent encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande since 2019.
Sandra Andrade, of El Salvador, has lived here for one year and one month. Her two daughters are living in the United States; one is in Virginia and the other in Boston. She is alone in the camp and says she can’t wait to reunite with them and the election of Biden gives her hope that she will soon be allowed to see them and to legally immigrate to the United States.
“I can’t wait to run into their arms and because of Señor Biden I’m going to get to do this,” she said in Spanish, waving her hands excitedly.
“The world doesn’t understand how hard the immigration process is, how hard it is to live in this camp,” Andrade said. “There are people who have lived here for a year and a half and that’s a long time to wait in this camp. Some days it’s cold, when it rains the tents break and everything gets wet. We have gone through many things but it’s all worth it if we can have reform.”
“We are all so happy and emotional because there will be change to the government and system,” said Modesto Galo, of Honduras, who has been living in the camp for 15 months with his now 15-year-old son.
“We have been waiting and waiting for an organization or a president with a different way of governing and who will help us to enter the United States,” he said in Spanish.
This past year he said he has worked odd jobs “en los barrios just to make a few pesos to stay alive.”
“This is not a place I ever expected myself to be in,” said Sandra Zuniga, of Honduras, who teaches kindergarten for the nonprofit organization Sidewalk School for the Children of Asylum Seekers, which offers free classes to children in the camp.
Zuniga said they had been praying in the camp for a change in presidents. “We are very contented and grateful to God because God gave us this change in government. We thank Him,” she said in Spanish. “This is a victory for us.”
This is a victory for us. … We hope he will keep his promise to get us out of here.”Sandra Zuniga, Honduran migrant living in Matamoros, Mexico
Like Andrade, Zuniga is living without her children in the camp and counting the moments when she can reunite with family. “This is a process that is very large and hard but for the moment we are very happy and filled with hope. Thank God!”
Zuniga said when they learned Biden had been elected there were “muchos gritos” (much yelling) and hugging and crying.
The remaining residents in the camp are organized in groups depending upon country origin, and the fence surrounding the camp is to keep out outsiders who might bring COVID-19 to the camp, or might try to tread on the migrants.
Zuniga said many people in the camp have suffered for different reasons. Some have lost children on the journey north, some have been attacked. Some have lost husbands or wives or don’t know where they are. But she said for Saturday afternoon, at least, they forgot their troubles and for a day, at least, were hopeful of what the future might bring for them.
“Everyone was elated and wore giant smiles and talked about how happy they were,” she said. “We are so happy.”
One older woman who did not want to give her name started recounting the months spent living in the camp and could not stop crying. She wiped her tears with her face mask and said she would put on a brave face because she hopes this nightmare soon is over.
“Everyone is really excited. Everyone was getting tired. There was talk that this wasn’t going to end because they felt like Trump was going to win again. People were thinking ‘maybe we should make other plans,’ but with Biden winning everyone is relieved and everyone said they’re going to sit and wait to see if Biden really ends MPP like he promised the first day of office,” said Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, director of the Sidewalk School for Children of Asylum Seekers. “So that’s what we’re expecting to happen.”
Rangel-Samponaro was hosting a party at the camp for her school and their families. They also were opening it up to others online via Zoom so everyone could celebrate.
“We are going to party tonight,” she said as she prepared to leave her home in Brownsville, Texas, with a car full of supplies for her 120 students.
Biden campaigned on a platform to reform immigration and to do away with MPP, and to help give a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers.”
His wife, Jill Biden, in December 2019 visited the Matamoros tent encampment, and passed out plates of tamales to the families, which Coronado remembered. At the time, the migrants’ tents were on a concrete plaza adjacent to the Gateway International Bridge, but Mexican officials have since moved the camp to what used to be a city park on the banks of the Rio Grande.
Enrique Coronado, of Guatemala, is just 24 and has lived at the camp for 15 months. He said teaching the children has been the one thing that has made him happy while he endured floods, triple-digit heat, freezing temperature, rats, venomous snakes and recent deaths from some in the camp who drowned while trying to swim across the Rio Grande.
“We’re going to wait until he takes office and see if he keeps his promises and hopefully it’s quick,” Coronado said.
“We hope he will keep his promise to get us out of here,” Zuniga said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.