Yesterday I returned to Matamoros with our multi-faith clergy delegation from Chicago. When I encountered Mario again, he was with his son and daughter. I asked him about his tent and he offered to lead me there. To engage with his daughter, I said in Spanish, “Can you show me the way to your tent?” When she didn’t answer, her father said, “Donde esta nuestra casa?” It suddenly hit me: they referred to their small tent as their home.
Betty Alzamora and I followed him through a massive conglomeration of tents and clotheslines to where he and his children live. Their tent was squished between two other tents. A couple dozen people came out of the tents curious about the priestly looking figure that just entered their living space. Betty and I explained why we are here—we want to witness the reality of what’s happening just across the border and hear the stories of people who are living there. We are here to pray with them and let them know there are people of faith aware of their circumstances and will work to alleviate them.
I knew Mario is from Honduras. What surprised me was that this spontaneously created neighborhood had people also from El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. These people were literally taking care of each other, looking after one another’s children and providing one another safety. Betty and I spent two hours listening to their stories. All of them fled their homes in fear for their lives or the lives of their children. Some had lost family members to violence at home. Others knew their daughters were at significant risk of being kidnapped into the sex trafficking pipeline. Still others had come forward as a witness to violence and were told they would be killed if they didn’t leave their home. While they felt safe in this crowded community, they feared venturing out into Matamoros—it is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. The U.S. State Department ranks it “Do not enter” for U.S. citizens, the same classification for Syria and Afghanistan.
Now all these people in seek of protection are finding themselves stuck between the Rio Grande river and one of the most dangerous places on earth. All they’ve got is a makeshift community without running water. The “Migrant Protection Protocols” of the Trump administration is literally putting people into danger. These people are obliged to fend for themselves in desperate conditions. All of them have a court date, at least three months of waiting that often results in either waiting for another court date or outright refusal.
The stories are utterly heartbreaking. These people are largely dependent on the generosity of humanitarian efforts. Last night our clergy delegation heard from the leaders of Team Bronzeville. Fifteen months ago they organized to provide two meals a day to the migrants stuck at the border. There were only 30 people there at that time. Six weeks ago there were 300. Now, there are over a 1,000 people. They do what they can. I will share more soon about the water purification system they wish to install and other ways they are seeking to provide for the burgeoning number of people in their backyard.
This is a refugee crisis in the making. Today I will cross into their camp a third time and I will catch two flights back to Chicago this afternoon.
There is a lot for me to process right now. I will share more in time.