MATAMOROS, Mexico (Border Report) — U.S. asylum-seekers living in a tent encampment at the base of the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, said that Matamoros government officials on Friday tried to round up their children and force them to relocate to an unknown shelter further in the interior of Mexico.
Several families told Border Report that Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, or DIF, a local child service’s organization run by the government of Matamoros, sent DIF agents in cars early Friday and with a bus to the tent city. The agents told the parents that their children must relocate to a shelter away from the border, where the camp is located. The parents were given the option of going with the children, if they wanted.
“They came in the morning and told us we needed to get ready we’re leaving, but we didn’t want to go,” Yamali Flores, of Honduras, said in Spanish.
Flores has been living since early August at the tent encampment with her husband and three children, ages 7, 9, and 13. “The United States needs to help from the other side because we don’t want to be in mexico. We need protection,” she said.
Shiama Bukirwa, of Uganda, arrived at the tent city on Thursday cold and hungry and scared and with her two children, including 2-year-old Jasmine. She said DIF officials approached her Friday morning and tried to take her children.
“They told me that they would take my children so I have two options: One option is I go with them to the shelter; if I don’t go with them they’d take the kids by force,” Bukirwa said.
None of the families we spoke with said they sent their children and eventually the DIF officials left. And all of them expressed fear that the Mexican officials would return and try to force them out again.
Helen Perry, who was volunteering in a medical tent with two doctors from the nonprofit organization Global Response Management told Border Report that her staff witnessed DIF officials approach families and tell them they were taking their children.
“They were telling people that because of the conditions they were going to take their kids. That’s obviously very concerning change of events especially because that falls as a human rights violation,” said Perry, a nurse practitioner from Jackson, Florida.
“These are not people choosing to live in these conditions. These are people being placed in these conditions because of the safety situation in Matamoros. I feel like it’s a little counter-productive to take peoples’ children when instead we could be working to improve the conditions that they can stay in safe places,” Perry said as a line of asylum-seekers came to her for medical help.
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, whose district includes Brownsville, said his office was told that federal Mexican officials intervened and told local officials that the migrants are on federal property and cannot be rounded up.
The asylum-seekers are commonly called MPPs because they remain in Mexico under President Donald Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols program. This program began in South Texas in mid-July. Now, there are more than 1,600 MPPs living in the encampment, a filthy tent city at the base of the bridge.
It is unknown how many of the 1,600 homeless MPPs are children. Border Report visited the tent on Thursday and Friday and saw many children there. After the raid on Friday, there were visibly fewer children running about.
Rep. Vela said Friday’s events could have resulted in a new wave of family separations, this time in Mexico. In May 2018, the United States began family separation of detained migrants, which prompted worldwide concerns and condemnation of the program, which eventually was shut down.
“This ‘Remain In Mexico’ policy is nothing more than an attempt at family separation,” Vela told Border Report. “This new twist takes the idea of family separation to a new extreme, if what we are hearing is true.”
Vela said the right thing for the American government to do is “retract the “Remain in Mexico” policy. If we allow them to stay in the United States while they await their adjudication hearings, then most of them will be together staying with families.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.