AUSTIN (Border Report) — Growing tension between business owners in Matamoros, Mexico, and the thousands of asylum-seekers living at a tent encampment there have sparked Mexican locals to organize a protest against the migrants on Sunday afternoon in Matamoros, which migrant advocates fear could turn violent.

The protest is planned for 3 p.m. CST, several migrant advocates told Border Report on Friday. In addition, social media posts and messages via WhatsApp are being sent from business to business within Matamoros, and throughout the sprawling tent encampment, which is located just across from Brownsville, Texas, at the base of the Gateway International Bridge.

It is unclear how many people are expected to participate, but given the outspoken disdain that many locals in Matamoros have expressed toward the filthy growing tent encampment, migrant advocates fear the protest could draw hundreds or even thousands of people. And, if the situation escalates, it could force federal officials in Mexico to shut down the Gateway International Bridge, which happened late last year.

Tensions have increased daily as the tent encampment continues to grow daily with migrants who are seeking asylum but forced to remain in Mexico under the Trump Administration’s remain in Mexico, or Migrant Protection Protocols program.

Recently, there were unconfirmed reports that the 13-year-old daughter of a Mexican merchant was raped by someone in the camp. And, although that information has not been verified by officials, it has led locals to galvanize and organize this protest, according to one of the posts circulating information about the event.

Children are seen on Jany. 17, 2020, living in a tent encampment for asylum-seekers in Matamoros, Mexico. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

“I’ve heard this,” said Helen Perry, who runs Global Response Management, which provides medical services for the migrants via a medical trailer at the camp. “I don’t know the validity of the claims. But I think this is a situation where there are people who are unhappy with what’s going on.”

Perry said word of the protests has residents in the tent city scared and fearful that violence could be directed toward them. She and other migrant advocates have met with officials with Instituto Nacional de Migración ( to try to diffuse the situation, but as of Friday morning the protest was still planned.

Helen Perry of Global Response Management runs the medical tent facilities at the tent encampment for asylum-seekers in Matamoros, Mexico. She is seen on Jan. 17, 2020. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“Residents in the camp have also heard these reports as well about the protest and they’re concerned for their safety. We’ve discussed with INM and we’ve been assured they would adequately take care of these people.”

Perry said that she and her volunteers are planning a safe “exit strategy” should violence erupt and situation become untenable on the ground. “Our discussions of it have mostly been talking about safety plans for volunteers who work in the camp every day and ensuring that we have an appropriate plan in place should things come out of hand.”

Mexican armed forces are seen patrolling the migrant tent encampment on Jan. 17, 2020, in Matamoros, Mexico. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

A contingency of Mexican Navy personnel have been patrolling the camp with more frequency lately and Perry said they have been told that they will be there in force on Sunday afternoon.

Also seen patrolling the camp in a recent visit were Mexican National Guardsmen and Matamoros police, but it is unclear whether they plan to be on hand on Sunday.

Our discussions of it have mostly been talking about safety plans for volunteers who work in the camp everyday and ensuring that we have an appropriate plan in place should things come out of hand.”

Helen Perry, executive director of Global Response Management

“I would hope that they would protect the residents of the camp. There are a lot of small children there and they are very vulnerable,” Perry said.

The protest currently is planned for outside the consulate’s office, which is about 3 miles from the camp, Perry said, further in the interior of the city. This is a city that the State Department has warned U.S. visitors not to travel to and one that is highly linked to drug cartel activities.

But it is widely feared that if the protest begins at the consulate’s office, it will end up at the tent encampment, very close to the bridge. A confrontation in the area could shut down this international port of entry.

In October, hundreds of migrants protesting the conditions in the tent encampment caused U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to shut down the bridge for 15 hours.

The shutdown occurred when about 300 migrants marched overnight to a point midway across the Gateway International Bridge and blocked traffic. A New York Times article at the time attributed the shutdown to frustrations by migrants who are forced to remain in Mexico as MPPs for many months as they await their asylum proceedings.

That shutdown angered many Matamoros merchants and residents, who said it affected trade and commerce on this highly-traversed bridge. They also have increasingly expressed outrage at the unsanitary conditions at the tent encampment, which include sewage on the streets, open-air garbage and residents who live for months at a time without proper hygiene.

Gabriela Zavala, the executive director of the Resource Center for Asylum Seekers in Mexico, confirmed the protest reports and said she, too, is working with local officials in hopes to control the situation.

“For right now I do know that there is a group of residents in the area who are organizing against and petitions,” Zavala said, adding it is being fueled by social media and unconfirmed reports. “It’s like people are frenzying themselves.”

Read a Border Report profile on Zavala and her organization

Border Report will continue to cover this story and update this as more information becomes available.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at

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