[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated that 3,000 migrants now live in the Reynosa downtown plaza.]
McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The largest migrant shelter in the dangerous Mexican border city of Reynosa is being evicted by Mexican officials and told to shut down and evacuate or face bulldozing in the next couple of days.
Senda de Vida Ministry, a faith-based nonprofit shelter that has operated for 14 years, is the only long-term overnight facility for migrant families in Reynosa. But on Tuesday, Reynosa city officials sent a letter ordering it to close by Saturday, several volunteers who work with the center told Border Report on Thursday.
The letter was sent by Reynosa officials on behalf of the Mexican section of the International Boundary and Water Commission and stated that the shelter is built too close to the banks of the Rio Grande on land considered a “high risk” for flooding.
Shutting down this shelter will displace about 600 migrants from the only safe and secure sleeping space in the gang-controlled border city. It also will prevent hundreds more from relocating to the shelter from a tent encampment in the city’s downtown plaza, where now 3,000 migrants currently live.
The eviction comes as volunteers were in the process of moving hundreds of families from the plaza camp to safety at the shelter, where they had built a concrete extension and wall and were installing a roof to not only escape crime but rising cases of COVID-19 at the camp.
Pastors Frank and Mirabel Sedeño, of Weslaco, Texas, visit the camp several times per week to minister and give out critical supplies and clothing to the migrants.
He said he views this aggressive action by Mexican officials as a way for the government “to get rid of the immigrants,” he told Border Report via phone as he was en route to the camp Thursday.
Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and the Humanitarian Respite Center in downtown McAllen, also told Border Report that she was headed to Reynosa on Thursday to talk with officials and assess the situation.
“The local municipality is wanting to demolish it,” Pimentel said. “Hard to believe.”
She said there is no other place for the migrants to go.
Volunteers are testing migrants and have been moving those who do not have COVID-19 to the shelter and giving them new tents and clothing and goods to help them start over.
“They are trying to fight it,” Pimentel said.
However, the city’s order gave them just five days to get out “and if they do not comply, the demolition will proceed,” as early as Sunday, according to a translation of the notice.
Frank Sedeño has been in constant communication Pastor Héctor Silva, who told local media that the shelter has been at that same location for 14 years, close to the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, and he doesn’t understand why they now must suddenly move.
“He said, ‘Yes they’re trying to close us down.’ But at the same time we know it’s an oppression or attack from the enemy,” Frank Sedeño said. “The city has been trying to find ways to get rid of the immigrants so I guess they found this way to kick them out. It’s frustrating.”
The city has been trying to find ways to get rid of the immigrants so I guess they found this way to kick them out. It’s frustrating.”Pastor Frank Sedeño of Weslaco, Texas
Most of the migrants are from Central America and are part of a wave of thousands who have made their way North after Joe Biden took over the White House, under the impression that his administration will be more welcoming and allow them to apply for asylum.
But the Trump-era Title 42 restrictions, which prevent asylum-seekers from crossing from Mexico into the United States to stop the spread of coronavirus, still remain after 16 months, and on Wednesday were extended for at least another month.
Reynosa officials appear to be growing weary of the growing number of migrants seeking refuge in their city as they grapple with increasing COVID-19 rates in this industrial city of over 600,000 people where hundreds of maquiladora factories are located.
The Sedeños and other volunteers say Mexican officials have not been supportive of the migrants, and there is minimal police presence provided to them at the plaza. The area also is prone to flooding, and much more so than the new extension being built on the shelter, which is a solid concrete platform, he said.
“The government hasn’t helped at all there in that camp and they’re not pleased by us, as organizations, and especially Senda de Vida in helping them out in this difficult struggle they’re going through,” Frank Sedeño said.
The non-profit Angry Tias and Abuelas sent an email “strongly protesting” the closure and/or demolition of Senda de Vida.
The nonprofit had been helping to build a wall around the shelter and getting donations to put up a roof and was helping to transfer the most vulnerable families from the plaza to the facility.
“It provides crucial protection, food, medical care, information and connection to legal assistance to hundreds of refugees at a time. With its newly built addition, it can house and protect close to a thousand. This is critical given the ever-growing number of families arriving from the south or being sent back from the U.S. under current COVID rules. Should the shelter be closed, all of these vulnerable families will be left in the streets, and immediately become the targets of gang kidnappings, trafficking, assaults, rape and murder,” the statement read.
“Reynosa is one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico, and Tamaulipas rates a level 4 danger rating from the U.S. Department of State, equal to Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the families have been kidnapped or attacked at least once there; many several times. There are many dead. The local Mexican officials now state that the Senda de Vida shelter is in a flood zone and must be closed, citing a 1970 government document. Legal papers have been served on Pastor Hector giving him five days to comply. Today is day 3. Clearly, the flood zone issue is mere pretext,” the statement reads.
In a tweet Thursday afternoon, Reynosa Mayor Maki Ortiz said the shelter had been built without permits. She also reiterated that the shelter was too close to the river and in danger of flooding.
Border Report has reached out to Reynosa officials and will update this story if more information is received.