Daily vigil for asylum-seekers at border crossing suspended due to coronavirus fears

Texas

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — Due to growing fears over the coronavirus, a group of volunteers who’ve been protesting on behalf of asylum-seekers has disbanded.

Joshua Rubin has led the group called Witness at the Border since it first began protesting on Jan. 12 at the base of the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas. He told Border Report on Tuesday that they disbanded their vigil on Day 64, which was Sunday.

“We didn’t think we could get people to come down and we didn’t think we should be asking people to come down because of the traveling risks,” Rubin said.

Joshua Rubin, organizer of the group Witness At the Border, is seen on Jan. 26, 2020, in Brownsville, Texas, at the base of the Gateway International Bridge where his group held a daily vigil for 64 days. They disbanded on Monday due to fears about the spread of coronavirus. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Rubin spoke via car phone from somewhere in Louisiana as he was driving home from Texas to New York. “We felt that it was kind of important to let them do what they felt they needed to do to be close to their loved ones and families at this time. Most come from far distances.”

But he said that didn’t make the decision any easier.

“We feel torn because we are leaving people behind who if anything are in worse shape because of the coronavirus,” said Rubin, who is from the Bronx.

The protesters came from 30 states, the UK and Mexico, and represented several different organizations, all with one common goal: To end the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy that since its inception has sent 60,000 asylum-seekers over the Southwest border into Mexico to await their asylum hearings, federal officials have said.

Read a Border Report story on the start of the daily vigil.

Across the Gateway International Bridge, about 3,000 MPPs live in a tent encampment that lacks adequate water and hygiene facilities. The tent numbers have grown by about 100 per day since the policy was implemented in South Texas in mid-July.

Tents are seen on Dec. 22, 2019, where 3,000 migrants live on the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, as they await their U.S. immigration hearings. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

As the weeks wore on, the protesters began attending daily judicial tent court proceedings at the giant judicial tent city at the base of the Gateway bridge, where they saw asylum-seekers go before U.S. immigration judges via videoconference.

Watch an exclusive Border Report video showing the group picketing the flights.

Protesters also went before dawn most mornings to the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport where they watched as busloads of shackled migrants were loaded onto deportation flights to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Rubin vowed that once federal officials deem the current health emergency over that they will return to South Texas to continue to protest

Fran Schindler, 81, right, waves at asylum-seekers on Feb. 14, 2020, who are on a charter bus at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport waiting to be loaded onto a deportation flight. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“We didn’t feel we could do anything about it and we want to protect ourselves to come back and resume the vigil,” he said. “We have every intention of returning and continuing in the struggle.”

On Saturday, in one of their last acts, the group held an event they called “Light at the Border,” where they projected pro-immigrant messages onto the roof of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s secondary inspection facility at the bridge, as well as the wall of the CBP facility where pedestrians come through as they walk over from Mexico. The group also held giant illuminated posters as they marched in front of CBP officers.

ABOVE: Words are projected onto the side of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection building at the base of the Gateway International Bridge by the group Witness at the Border on Saturday, March 14, 2020. BELOW: Members of Witness at the Border hold lighted signs as words are projected onto the roof of the CBP’s secondary inspection station. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Phrases like, “RESTORE ASYLUM NOW,” “TESTIGOS EN LA FRONTERA (WITNESS AT THE BORDER),” “DAY 63,” “WE ARE WATCHING” and “DON’T LOOK AWAY” were projected above a CBP truck parked on the street. While group members carried signs reading “LET THEM CROSS,” and “FREE THEM.”

Many cars honked and the event drew some media, but Rubin noted on Saturday night to Border Report that not many protesters were on hand and he commented that “many people were scared away by the coronavirus.”

“What we’re trying to do is illuminate what’s happening here. We know on the other side of the bridge there are a bunch of people who are in enormous danger not only now from the cartels that prey on them and the government that neglects them, but now from the very possibility they will get a case or two of the coronavirus and it’s going to spread like wildfire and it’s going to cost lives,” Rubin said.

Watch a Border Report Facebook live of Saturday’s event on our Facebook page.

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

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

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