BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — Dueling protests touching on migrant rights were held on Sunday afternoon on both sides of the United States-Mexico border. In Matamoros, Mexico, locals protested about a migrant camp where thousands of asylum-seekers live, urging it to be cleared out. Across the Rio Grande in Brownsville, migrant advocates continued a daily vigil for asylum-seeker rights.
The protest in Mexico was organized late last week after unconfirmed reports spread that the 13-year-old daughter of a local merchant had been sexually assaulted by someone from the migrant tent encampment, which is located at the base of the bridge in Matamoros and is where 2,500 asylum-seekers live while awaiting their U.S. immigration hearings.
Mexican nationals posted on social media and sent thousands of e-vites to the event saying they were staging a rally in front of the U.S. Consulate’s office in Matamoros to urge the removal of migrants living in the tent encampment. Migrant advocates told Border Report on Friday they feared hundreds might show up to the protest. They worried it could lead to violence against the migrants if the protest got out of hand.
Instead, the 3 p.m. rally in Matamoros ended up being held in the city’s main plaza in what is called the Municipal Palace. It attracted about 75 people, including several media, said Joshua Rubin, of Bronx, New York, who walked over the Gateway International Bridge to witness it.
“People were not particularly excited. There was a smattering of applause after some of his more potent lines, but it was a handful of people applauding. I didn’t get the sense that he (the speaker) was stirring up what we all feared, which was a lynch mob. We didn’t see that happening,” Rubin said when he returned to Brownsville.
Rubin has been holding a vigil and protest himself on the U.S. side of the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas, since Jan. 12 to urge the U.S. government to end the Migrant Protection Protocols Program. The Trump Administration implemented MPP in South Texas in mid-July. It forces migrants to remain in Mexico during their asylum proceedings, which can last for several months.
Rubin added that there is another rally in Matamoros scheduled for Jan. 31. This one is supposed to be in front of the U.S. Consulate’s office, which Rubin says he welcomes instead of people turning their anger toward migrants waiting to be processed.
“At least that’s at the American consulate and the anger would be directed in the right way,” Rubin said. “Because, after all, it is the United States, with the cooperation of Mexico, that is making this situation. So I would love it if people who were angry about their city being mistreated about this turned their anger at the United States and hollered pretty loud at that consulate. They’re the ones I think that should be blamed.”
Tensions between the migrants and Mexican locals have been building for months as this tent encampment grew daily with more and more migrants. The disposal of trash, open sewage and clothes hanging from fences and trees, have angered many locals who say it is sullying the city’s image.
The number of migrants doubled and then quadrupled after MPP was implemented in South Texas in mid-July, but Sunday’s planned protest was, so far, the largest organized event targeted specifically to rid the city of migrants.
On Nov. 1, agents with the Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, a local child service’s organization run by the government of Matamoros, were sent to round up the children and take them to a shelter further in the city’s interior because of near-freezing temperatures at the time. But the parents resisted, held the children close to them and retreated to their tents. Eventually the agents left without taking the children.
Since then, no overt and open aggression against the migrants occurred, and Sunday’s rally remained tame.
It had been widely feared that protesters in Mexico would take their aggression out on the migrants on Sunday and threaten them in the camp. Many migrants had reportedly retreated to their tents and were seeking safer places to stay.
Helen Perry, who runs Global Response Management, a nonprofit medical facility at the tent encampment for the migrants, said she was told that Mexican officials had promised a stepped up police presence to protect the MPPs.
“The police are supposed to have a presence in the camp,” Perry said Sunday via phone.
Perry and other volunteer organizations had prepared exit strategies and ways to keep volunteers safe, she said.
Andrea Rudnik, who is in charge of volunteers for Team Brownsville, said her crew were planning to cross over and feed the migrants dinner on Sunday, as usual. Rudnik said they felt fairly safe “because the protest is going to be in downtown, not where we are feeding the people,” she said.
Rudnik did say that several migrant parents on Sunday morning did withhold their children from a free school that is offered to the migrant children, or took them out early “because of concerns about the planned protest.”
There also had been concerns that the bridge could be shut down — something that occurred on Saturday in the northern Mexico border town of Juarez where thousands attended a protest against the recent killing of an outspoken female artist. That caused the Paso del Norte international bridge to shut down for four hours.
The Gateway International Bridge remained open Sunday.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.
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