McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Volunteers who help asylum-seekers in Matamoros, Mexico, say they will continue crossing south of the border despite an FBI report that four Americans were kidnapped at gunpoint on Friday in that border city.
“We’re not going to stop going,” said Andrea Rudnik, who is in charge of volunteers for the nonprofit Team Brownsville, which along with several other aid groups, cross regularly into Matamoros taking toiletries, food and other supplies to help the migrants.
Matamoros is a border city on the northeastern edge of the Mexican Gulf state of Tamaulipas, and is home to warring factions of the Gulf drug cartel. But it’s also home to thousands of asylum-seeking migrants who wait across the Rio Grande for the opportunity to cross into the United States.
Rudnik says volunteers are not in Matamoros after dark, and they do not spend the night there.
“We’re going to find ways of going. We’re going to be cautious, as we always are. We’re going to cross with people that know the territory in Matamoros, that know the safest routes to go. But we’re not going to stop going,” Rudnik said. “As long as there are people in need, we will find a way to get to them and to bring them the supplies that they need.”
Volunteers also go with trusted guides and locals, like Pastor Abraham Barberi, who runs Dulce Refugio church in Matamoros and who ministers to the migrants at the camp.
Barberi lives in Brownsville but crosses the border daily on foot or bicycle to go to his church and to help the migrants, many of whom live in outdoor encampments under garbage bags pitched like tents and covered with plastic wrap.
On Monday, Barberi told Border Report: “I’m not worried because I know that the cartel is not kidnapping Americans for the sake of making money.”
“The cartel hates getting heat from the news or the FBI,” he said.
Rudnik says that every volunteer who crosses knows the risks.
“We cross into Matamoras knowing that there is a certain risk, knowing that there is a certain danger. But at the same time, we feel very driven to do it because the asylum-seekers are in much more danger. And they don’t have resources that allow them to be able to get food and clothing and the things that we supply. They, many times, don’t have the resources to go and buy those things or there’s also fear of leaving their encampment area and their fellow asylum seekers. So they depend on people like us,” Rudnik said.
On Monday morning, Team Brownsville and a coalition of nonprofits that help asylum-seekers in northern Mexico held their weekly meeting. Rudnik said news of the kidnappings was a topic they discussed. But she said all agreed to continue supplying aid to asylum-seekers south of the border.
“We all basically kind of reiterated the same ideas that we go with caution. But we still go because there are people in need. And we feel like we need to serve the people in need,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, who represents Brownsville, called Friday’s kidnappings “horrific and alarming.”
“I stand with the FBI and call on the government of Mexico and the state of Tamaulipas to work in good faith with American investigators to find out who is responsible for this and ensure the safe return of our citizens to U.S. soil. I implore anyone who has information regarding the kidnapping to come forward as the FBI continues their investigation,” Gonzalez said.
The FBI said the four U.S. citizens were in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates when they were “fired upon” shortly after crossing into Matamoros, from Brownsville, Texas.
“All four were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men,” according to the FBI.
The FBI said late Sunday that the agency is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the return of the victims “and the arrest of those involved,” according to a media statement.
Mexican Ambassador Ken Salazar issued a statement Monday, saying, “unknown assailants in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, violently kidnapped at gunpoint four U.S. citizens in an incident in which an innocent Mexican citizen was tragically killed.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday that the Americans had crossed the border to buy medicine and ended up caught in the crossfire between two armed groups. He said Mexican officials are investigating the death of the Mexican citizen and the kidnappings of Americans.
The U.S. Department of State has issued a Travel advisory for Mexico saying “violent crime — such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery — is widespread and common in Mexico.”
Specifically, Americans are warned not to travel to Tamaulipas state “due to crime and kidnapping.” And U.S. government employees may only travel within a limited area near the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros.
The Associated Press reported that shootouts there on Friday were so bad that the U.S. Consulate issued an alert about the danger and local authorities warned people to shelter in place.
There also were reports that local schools closed for the day.
The FBI is asking anyone with information to call their San Antonio Division at (210) 225-6741. Tips can also be submitted online and anonymously.
Border Report will update this story as more information becomes available.