BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — As commuter traffic from Mexico crossed the Gateway International Bridge into the United States on Thursday morning, two migrant advocates held a peaceful in-person and online protest to represent those who can’t cross.
Felicia Rangel-Samponaro and Victor Cavazos run a school for asylum-seeking children who are stuck on the other side of the Rio Grande. They held signs and waved to motorists who honked in support as they tried to get their message across that over 800 people are still living in a filthy tent encampment over the bridge in Mexico as part of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program (MPP.)
President Joe Biden has halted the program and ordered a review of the policy. But earlier this week, Border Report was the first to report that DHS officials began paroling asylum-seekers who cross illegally into parts of South Texas under the Obama-era catch-and-release policy. This allows them to temporarily live in the United States while they await their immigration proceedings.
While these permitted entries is welcome news for the new migrants, Rangel-Samponaro and Cavazos wonder what is next for those stuck in Mexico?
“Biden has signed some executive orders about immigration, which is great, but what he hasn’t done is addressed the asylum-seekers who are stuck in Mexico under MPP. They’re still not allowed to cross. And we want to bring attention that they’re still over there,” Rangel-Samponaro, director of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers told Border Report. “I would like for the people who have been waiting for almost two years and who followed U.S. laws I would just like for them to be addressed now.”
Morale in the camp is low, she said, but the children still believe they will soon cross.
Her camp’s teachers, who are all asylum-seekers, don’t discuss the subject with the children. They leave that to their parents, who she said are getting more disheartened with every passing day.
“It’s a lot of disappointment right now,” she said. “They are in limbo.”
The MPP policy was begun in 2019 by the Trump administration and at one point there were an estimated 3,000 migrants living in the tent encampment. The families live in tents provided by volunteers and nonprofit organizations that have provided resources to the region.
Texas State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat from South Texas who represents the border, questioned why the Biden administration this week rolled out so many immigration policy changes without coordinating with local and state officials especially during an ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
He told Border Report that paroling new arrivals via the old catch-and-release policy has endangered border communities because U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are not testing migrants for the coronavirus prior to their release.
And he said that allowing new arrivals into the country before other who have been waiting for so long is not fair.
“That’s what is so ironic by the whole situation and quite frankly unfair. You have people who are waiting in Mexico for a hearing while those who are coming across are being placed in detention on this side,” Hinojosa said. “We are allowing them to go into the interior of the United States while those families that are abiding by the rules are still in Mexico and they cannot come across because they already have a hearing date and they are identified in the system.”
When cross-border travel restrictions were imposed in March to stop the spread of COVID-19, the immigration tent courts in Brownsville and elsewhere along the border were closed to asylum-seekers. And all migrants who tried to cross and claim asylum were immediately expelled, and the expulsions continued until just a few days ago. On Jan. 28, CBP began paroling migrants traveling with small children who crossed illegally into South Texas.
On Thursday, CBP officials gave this explanation for the release of new arrivals in South Texas, calling their parole by the legal term of Notice to Appear: “CBP has seen a steady increase in border encounters since April 2020, which, aggravated by COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing guidelines, has caused some facilities to reach maximum safe holding capacity. Per longstanding practice, when long-term holding solutions aren’t possible, some migrants will be processed for removal, provided a Notice to Appear, and released into the U.S. to await a future immigration hearing. As the Administration reviews the current immigration process, balancing it against the ongoing pandemic, we will continue to use all current authorities to avoid keeping individuals in a congregate setting for any length of time.”
The City of McAllen has requested through the state and received 10,000 COVID-19 test kits, which it is using at the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen.
But Hinojosa told Border Report that same surge of resources have not been sent to other cities from the state, like to Brownsville, because they haven’t asked for it.
“It is a really tough situation and we have to get a handle on what would be the consequences of some of the changes that are being made by the executive orders by President Biden,” Hinojosa said.
Rangel-Samponaro says the migrants in Matamoros — many who fled poverty and violence in Central America — feel like collateral damage, caught in this political maelstrom, in which they have no power or money to extricate themselves.
We know that we are a lifeline of hope for them and we can’t give that up.”
Victor Cavazos, migrant advocate
On Thursday, she held signs with paintings done by Mel, a 22-year-old migrant who fled Guatemala after being shot six times in the stomach and chest. She said an immigration judge during previous hearings refused to parole Mel into the United States saying he had not proven he would be in danger if he returned to his home country.
“It means a lot to me to be in this country,” said Cavazos, a first-generation American whose family is from Matamoros.
“I know that they’re fleeing from countries that U.S. policies in some cases helped to create,” he said. “We know that we are a lifeline of hope for them and we can’t give that up.”