EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated.
McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A swell of over 500 asylum-seeking migrants who are camping at the base of the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, waiting to cross into the United States, have overwhelmed volunteers and available supplies. And a Texas congressman told Border Report on Tuesday that he fears the situation is deteriorating and could “turn into chaos.”
“The reports that we are getting from volunteers and lawyers is that the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is leading to what is an uncontrollable number of people that Mexico is not ready to care for,” U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, told Border Report via phone on Tuesday. “And we have very little control with our ability to make sure things don’t turn into chaos on the ground.”
A month ago, the Trump Administration expanded its Migrant Protection Protocols program to Brownsville, in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. This policy requires that asylum-seekers are returned to Mexico to wait outside of the United States for the duration of their immigration proceedings.
A Jan. 24 memo by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security explaining the program says that “Mexico will provide them with all appropriate humanitarian protections for the duration of their stay.”
The DHS memo states “MPP will help restore a safe and orderly immigration process, decrease the number of those taking advantage of the immigration system, and the ability of smugglers and traffickers to prey on vulnerable populations, and reduce threats to life, national security, and public safety, while ensuring that vulnerable populations receive the protections they need.”
However since the program was implemented in Brownsville, in mid-July, a core group of volunteers and lawyers have traveled from South Texas to Matamoros every morning and evening offering food, medicine and legal advice to the awaiting migrants.
Vela says the migrants lack nutrition and amenities. And on Monday the numbers swelled so much that the volunteers began running out of provisions, and are uncertain how they will feed and serve all who are in need.
“They’re focused on getting people fed,” Vela said.
Jodi Goodwin, an immigration lawyer from Harlingen who travels regularly to help migrants in Matamoros, told Border Report on Tuesday evening that the crowds are so large that people often push and poke at her and get in her face for help
It’s like a mob. It’s so many people and they’re so desperate.”Immigration lawyer Jodi Goodwin
“It drives my anxiety levels crazy with the crowds,” Goodwin said via phone. “It’s like a mob. It’s so many people and they’re so desperate. They’re desperate for food and information.”
Goodwin is often the sole legal counselor available to help the masses. She volunteers with the nonprofit group, Team Brownsville, which send volunteers twice a day with food and help to the migrants.
“They all know that I’m the lawyer and everybody wants to talk to me and everybody wants to represent me,” she said.
As to Mexican officials helping the migrants, as stated in the DHS memo that they would, Goodwin said: “It’s a real problem. The Mexican government is not providing anything for these people. Anything that they’re being provided with, that I’ve seen — in terms of shelter, food, access to basic medical care or education — is all being provided by volunteers.”
With such massive numbers, Goodwin says they are struggling to feed everyone. They went from serving hot dinners, to sandwiches and hot dogs. And often they run out before everyone is fed.
“We are having to make meals that are much cheaper to put together,” Goodwin said. “A lot of sandwiches, bags of chips and bags of nuts and whatever we can come up with.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.