Reynosa, Mexico – When 36-year-old *Albert and his 10-year-old son arrived at the U.S. border last week, they hoped that their month-long journey with smugglers from Honduras would be a joyous experience with their Florida cousins who were ready to welcome them. The gathering ended.
But after crossing the Rio Grande River into Texas, U.S. Border Patrol agents picked up Albert and his son, drove them to the bridge to Mexico, and escorted them across the border.
“I lost everything on my journey here, and I have nowhere to go,” Albert said. He asked Al Jazeera not to use his real name because he was worried that he might be recognized by people kidnapping the U.S.-Mexico border.
Once in the Mexican border city of Reynosa-where there are nearly 1 million people-Albert saw a square filled with tents. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. border has been closed to asylum seekers and hundreds of families have camped here.
“They gave me a tent to sleep in,” he said while standing in the muddy camp. “Everything was wet last night, and I started crying.”
‘There is no place here’
In Reynosa, most of the citizens of Central America or Haiti live in camps, shelters or cheap apartments, waiting for the expiry of the deadline. Coronavirus-related restrictions This allows the United States to repatriate most asylum-seekers at its southern border with Mexico.
Rallying created a Humanitarian issues In the past six months-Reynosa camp began to form around June-and the flow of people has not stopped.
The number of arrivals at the southern border of the United States is at a level It hasn’t appeared since the early 2000s, Said Adam Isaacson, who oversees the border at the Washington Latin America Office of the research and advocacy organization.
The main reason for the surge is people fleeing Central American countries With Haiti in countless crises, Isaacson told Al Jazeera, and the others are also from South America. The economic crisis worsened by COVID-19 and the relaxation of travel restrictions related to the pandemic have also stimulated immigration in recent months.
However, the pandemic-related restrictions that prevent most U.S. asylum applications still exist—Mexico border cities are filling up.
“There is no place here for all these people,” said Felicia Rangel, the organization’s co-director of volunteers. Sidewalk school for children asylum seekers, The organization has been providing education to children on the Texas border since the end of 2019.
“However, buses and vans continue to come every day,” Rangel told Al Jazeera in an interview at the office opposite the Reynosa camp.
In 2019, then President Donald Trump launched a project called Immigration Protection Agreement (MPP), also known as “Remain in Mexico”.
This widely condemned policy forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed in US courts.Tens of thousands of people were sent back to Mexico from the United States, where they built A huge tent camp At the US border in Matamoros, Mexico, threats of violence, rape and other violations of human rights are faced every day.
Trump also promulgated the so-called Heading 42, A policy cited the potential spread of COVID-19 to prohibit most asylum seekers from entering the country.
Although US President Joe Biden exempted children from Article 42 deportation, he retained the policy for most single adults and families arriving at the border and expressed the need to stop the potential spread of the coronavirus .
But Gladis Molina, executive director of the Chicago Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights and Youth, stated that Article 42 “is really not a health issue, but a deterrent to immigrants.” Molina, who visited the Reynosa camp in November last year, said: “This is a way of keeping immigrants out.”
Despite the general removal of pandemic restrictions and Open the U.S. border Went to travel last month. Molina said that the Biden administration did not give a timetable when it planned to end the use of Article 42.
“This policy must end,” Molina told Al Jazeera. “This is our number one problem.”
“Stay in Mexico” restart
But even if Article 42 is cancelled, other rules of the Trump era will continue to make it difficult to reach the United States.
Thursday, Mexico Announce It has reached an agreement with Washington to restore the MPP, a rule that requires asylum seekers to wait months in Mexico before their cases can be processed in the United States. Although Biden tried to repeal the rule, a court in Texas ordered the rule to be restored in August.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security stated that the plan will be launched again on December 6. Once the MPP is fully operational again, it will move to Mexico from seven border crossings in California, Arizona, and Texas.
This means that the problems leading to poor conditions at the border may continue to exist.
In the square in Reynosa, residents of the camp said that waiting has become more difficult due to the threat of disease and organized crime. Other dangers.
A man said that he and his seven-year-old son were imprisoned for two months. He said that the masked men beat him and sent videos of their attacks to his family in order to blackmail them a ransom of $10,000. He said that after these people received payment, he and his son were released.
“We haven’t seen the sun for two months,” he said. “Actually, I don’t know how much I can bear.”
Threat of violence
this Threat of violence As a result, many parents send their children across the bridge unaccompanied because they are not subject to Article 42 when traveling alone. Once they arrive in the United States, they will be detained by the US authorities, and their families hope they can be reunited with relatives already in the country.
A couple in the Reynosa camp said their 15-year-old son was beaten by cartel members and their 17-year-old daughter was threatened with sexual assault. One night, when a man came and tried to drag the girl out of the tent at home, the parents said they decided to let them cross the border into the United States, trying to find their grandmother in Georgia.
“Our best hope is to be with them again,” the mother said, standing outside the tent, where she still lives with her husband and their 9-year-old son.
According to activists working in Reynosa, thousands of children have also been sent out of the camp in recent months.At the same time, local churches and volunteer organizations provide most residents with Humanitarian needs, Including untreated medical conditions.
Lourdes Gonzalez is a long-time advocate of Reynosa’s poor. She told Al Jazeera that she walked through the camps in the square every day to look for patients. On the last day, when she avoided tangled laundry lines and tarps, people gathered around her to ask questions.
“This happens every time we come. All the people who are sick start to come,” said Gonzalez, a member of Angry Tias and Abuelas (angry aunts and grandmothers), which is a helper who is trapped in A radical organization of the people of the Rio Grande Valley.
When Gonzalez was standing on a clearing with tents, a pregnant woman said she needed medication; an elderly woman complained that she had no medication to control her blood sugar; a little girl said she had a hernia; a mother said she The young son was raped.
Hope still exists
Suyapa Rosa, a 36-year-old doctor, visited the camp with Gonzalez. Rosa had worked in a hospital in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, but fled under the threat of violence from gang members. She said that if she did not leave, they threatened to kill her.
She crossed the Rio Grande with a large group of people and was transported back to Reynosa by US border agents in September by bus. She stayed in the camp for two weeks, then went to live and work in a nearby clinic and shelter, which was organized and operated by Angry Tias and Abuelas.
“The situation here is very bad,” she said while recording the medical conditions of the camp personnel.
However, despite the hardships people face in Reynosa Camp, many people Hold hope One day protection will be found in the United States.
“I feel destroyed, like a terrible change in my life,” said a 40-year-old former school teacher, who also did not tell Al Jazeera her name. She said that she and her 14-year-old daughter crossed the Rio Grande River into the United States last month, but they were sent back to Mexico.
“We are waiting for the door to the United States to open,” she said. “A miracle happened.”