SAN JUAN, Texas (Border Report) — An intense heat wave gripping the Rio Grande Valley is spurring an effort to help keep asylum-seekers safe and more comfortable by reestablishing and revamping a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, a Catholic nun who works with migrants tells Border Report.
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, says she and Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores met with Mexican officials on Thursday in Matamoros. She said they have offered to open a hospital in that border city as a shelter to help get thousands of asylum-seekers out of the brutal sun.
If that doesn’t work, she said, they have asked to bring back a migrant camp with more amenities so the families and asylum-seekers can survive the heat.
Temperatures have topped 100 degrees for at least 10 days, and the heat is expected to continue for several more days, according to the National Weather Service.
“It is hard these temperatures are devastating, and to have so many families, especially the kids, in those conditions, you know, it is not easy,” Pimentel told Border Report on Friday from her offices in the border town of San Juan, Texas.
She estimates 3,000 asylum-seekers now are living in tents sprawled up and down the Rio Grande in Matamoros, waiting for the opportunity to come to the United States.
“We experienced it for the length of time that we were there, how hard it was, and they’re there all day, every day for a long time,” she said.
Alma Ruth, founder of the nonprofit Practice Mercy Foundation was at the camp on Monday. She told Border Report “it was heartbreaking” seeing the families suffer.
Since Title 42 was lifted last month, and Title 8 enforcement regulations are in place by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Pimentel says that thousands are waiting south of the border.
In order to apply for asylum they must have an interview with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, and they must make an appointment on the CBP One app.
As they wait, she says, migrants have even taken over the fenced-in site where a former camp was located. That area had been blocked off, but she says they have now moved into it and pitched whatever plastic they can find to make tents.
“Now they’ve opened up the previous camp that used to be — was isolated — now it’s open as well, because all the space along the river, farther down south, it’s already filled with people as well,” Pimentel said.
The former camp, called Dignity Village, operated from 2019 through 2021. Catholic Charities and other local nonprofits helped to send regular meal service, clothing and supplies. But authorities within the City of Matamoros tried several times to shut down the camp, complaining of the thousands of homeless migrants who occupied that portion of the border city, which was located near a relatively affluent housing subdivision.
Over the winter, families began to populate the area again and by Christmas, there were thousands living along the riverbanks.
But the difference is that there are no amenities that the previous camp had, which included banks of toilets, showers, clothes washing stations, potable water, even a few gardens for growing vegetables.
Matamoros officials had prevented this new iteration of the camp from pitching actual tents, but Pimentel says those regulations have been discarded as this heat wave continues.
“Right now whatever there is as a possibility of having to protect the families from the extreme heat, they’re not interfering to let them do that because they need to protect themselves. The sun is unforgivable,” she said. “It’s terrible. The heat is very bad.”
The sun is unforgivable.”Sister Norma Pimentel, Catholic Charities of the RGV
Getting an appointment on the CBP One app to claim asylum is basically the luck of the draw. She says improvements have been made to the app, but it is still hard for large families to find several appointments together and in the same border city.
“It’s so difficult for some, and for others they are able to cross very soon. Others just continue waiting and trying and trying and it’s that appointment that they want — to be able to enter the United States correctly, safely orderly. And not risk their lives and not go through the river between points of entry. And do it right but it’s it’s not as easy for everybody,” she said.
Catholic Charities accepts donations on its website for cash and other items to help the migrants in Matamoros, Mexico.