Migrants in refugee camp in Matamoros to begin coming to U.S. Thursday, local volunteers ‘ramping up’ aid

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Groups of 25 expected at first; up to 200 per day next week

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Starting Thursday, a small group of asylum-seekers who have been living at a refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico, will be allowed to cross into the United States via Brownsville, Texas, a spokesperson with the Department of Homeland Security told Border Report on Wednesday afternoon.

And if all goes well, hundreds more could be brought across in the days following, volunteers told Border Report.

The migrants will cross on Thursday over the Gateway International Bridge, which is just blocks from where over 1,000 asylum-seekers have been living in an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande, the spokesperson said.

The migrants are all part of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program implemented in 2019 by the Trump administration that forced them to remain in Mexico during their U.S. immigration proceedings. The Biden administration has called the admittance of these “residents” of the camp a “next phase” in setting right humanitarian wrongs done under the Trump administration.

“The United States plans to begin processing at the International Gateway Bridge POE on February 25. The number of individuals per day will depend and be decided in line with our ability to adhere to public safety and health considerations as well as our ability to coordinate with the Mexican government and our international and non-governmental organization partners on both sides of the border.

 Processing will be based on prior registration. Individuals should not seek to travel to Matamoros – new arrivals to the Matamoros camp will not gain entry to the United States through this limited process,” the spokesperson said.

The United States plans to begin processing at the International Gateway Bridge POE on February 25. The number of individuals per day will depend and be decided in line with our ability to adhere to public safety and health considerations.”

DHS spokesperson
Migrants are seen at the Matamoros, Mexico, camp on Jan. 17, 2020 prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The camp has been closed to non-residents since March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

A volunteer who has been coordinating efforts with the nonprofit organization Team Brownsville told Border Report that the number of migrants will start small and then could increase to up to 200 per day, depending if the process is going smoothly.

Andrea Rudnik of Team Brownsville said her group has been putting to work additional volunteers who are assembling care packets for the migrants when they cross across.

She is part of a large conglomeration of NGOs and immigration lawyers and nonproft groups that have formed and are calling themselves the RGV Welcoming Committee.

Andrea Rudnik of Team Browsville is seen on March 14, 2020, at the base of the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“Humanitarian, legal, logistics, all types of planning is well underway. We have a lot of help and a lot of organizations,” said Rudnik whose group has provided free breakfasts and dinners for over 18 months to the thousands in the migrant camp in Matamoros.

“We are ramping up our volunteer efforts. We are trying to get more volunteers, having teams of people making backpacks with everything the people will need. We are putting together hygiene kits, sorting clothes,” Rudnik said. “And expecting the unexpected.”

She stressed that no one group is acting alone and all are under the strict supervision and direction of the Department of Homeland Security. They also are having multiple meetings per day with officials from the White House, she said.

Rudnik said the situation is fluid and changing as they face new operational hurdles and as they learn from the release of migrants currently happening in San Diego.

A migrant reads a sign on Wednesday, Feb. 234, 2020, posted at the refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico, with instructions from the United Nations Refugee Agency on how to apply to enter the United States and testing for coronavirus. (Courtesy Photo)

All of the migrants must test negative for coronavirus before they will be admitted into the United States, DHS says.

On Wednesday, officials with the United Nations Refugee Agency began administering COVID-19 tests to migrants in the camp in Matamoros “for entry to the United States in line with the U.S. plan to terminate a policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP),” a news release by the agency said.

The tests are being done by UNHCR’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) “to ensure protection of public health while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is ensuring humane treatment of children and their families,” the news release said.

The agency estimates that 750 people in the camp would be eligible for entry into the United States.

Only migrants with active immigration cases and who have not already been denied or expelled will be considered for admittance into the United States, DHS says.

All must apply via an online portal that was set up last Friday by the United States government. The portal, however, has been rife with problems. On Friday it crashed numerous times, and there were reports throughout the weekend of numerous migrants who were frustrated and unable to successfully complete the application process.

Charlene D’Cruz, left, a lawyer with the nonprofit Lawyers for Good Government is seen trying to help migrant families on Jan. 17, 2020, to cross the Gateway International Bridge into Brownsville, Texas. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Lawyers with the nonprofit Lawyers for Good Government have held seminars at the camp and are physically helping each migrant family to access the portal and enter their information.

Rudnik said currently the Welcoming Committee is working under the guise that the migrants will walk over the bridge and head to the Brownsville bus station, which is located just blocks from the bridge. There volunteers have care packets and food waiting for them.

Only those traveling with tickets are permitted into the Brownsville bus station, as shown by this sign on Feb. 4, 2020. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“We are working with a Brownsville-hub concept and trying to amplify the work that we do and ramp it up to meet the needs here so that people don’t have to be sent anywhere else,” Rudnik said.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling told Border Report on Wednesday that he was part of a meeting call with DHS officials to go over logistics, although he would not specify what is planned.

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, has been coordinating volunteer efforts in the Rio Grande Valley region and has offered the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, which is run by Catholic Charities, for any released migrants who need an overnight stay.

The center is about 60 miles away and located across the station from the downtown McAllen bus station.

In a statement early Wednesday, DHS officials characterized this as the “next phase” in releasing these migrants who have been waiting to claim asylum in the United States. That language led many to speculate that the release of the Matamoros camp will be on a grander scale and much more quickly accelerated, once the process is fully up and running.

Rudnik said for now they are doing everything in a very deliberate and organized manner. And they are learning from operations also underway in San Diego and scheduled to start in El Paso on Friday.

“Things are changing on the spur of the moment. We are getting direct info from the people who work in the White House, people with direct access to this whole operation — who know what’s going on in Tijuana, what’s going on in El Paso and here. They call a lot of the shots,” Rudnik said.

The bottomline: “They don’t want to leave anybody out,” she said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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