Friday, February 14, 2020

A Return to the Border

I am writing from the southern tip of Texas. I crossed from Brownsville into Matamoros, Mexico.  Tents no longer filled the sidewalks and the public courtyard right next to the road leading to the bridge. Instead the tents were lined up on either side of the dirt road at the street level, and even more were lined up below in the area between the dirt road and the river, but high enough that the river was still ten feet below them.

When I found Mario and his children, Belen came running to me and gave me a big hug. Esteven was close behind. The smile on Mario’s face was precious. Tears were in his eyes as he thanked me for returning. They showed me the way back to their tents—they now have two tents, one where they sleep and the other for the clothing and toys they have been given over the months. I didn’t notice any other family who had two tents. Both have tarps over them so they are not as effected by the rain. Because Mario and those in his “neighborhood” have been there so much longer than most, they have more space. Their area has a small table and a gas stove for cooking. It looks like a campsite for one family, but 80 people share this area.

Some of the people looked malnourished, but more looked healthier than the last time I visited. I recognized two of the men who were sitting outside the tents. One of them, Marvin, asked me if I could fill out forms he has in English to request an appeal to his recent court visit that ended in a “denial” to receive asylum. As I sat at the table on the bench, Belen and Steven sat on either side of me, pushing themselves into me. They craved the physical presence of someone familiar. 

Marvin shared with me how in Honduras, his son was in college. When his son was asked by  gang leaders to sell drugs at the college, he informed his father that he was scared. So Marvin went to the drug leaders and said that his son could not do what they were asking. The drug leaders told them that they had three options: sell drugs, leave, or die. So Marvin and his son left for the border, leaving his wife and daughter. Because his son was under 18. at age 17, his son was taken by border patrol and treated as a minor. After three weeks in detention he was allowed to live with a cousin in Houston. 

Marvin has been at the border since early July. He talks with his wife, daughter, and son by phone each day. He has a quiet tenacity that pushes me to try to help him. I agreed to send send his application for an appeal to where they need to go. 

Team Brownsville continues to provide a breakfast and late lunch each day. Marvin said the food is more than sufficient and that it’s healthy—not a lot of grease like at the nearby taquerias. That day, Marvin and Mario’s family joined me for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

After lunch we walked through the camp. I was heartened by a lot of what I witnessed. There are now over 30 port-a-potties each in two different areas, clearly marked for men and women (up from 5 that were really gross). There are two water purification units providing clean water for cooking and drinking. There are two sets of showers for bathing. These improvements have been made by Team Brownsville to help meet the basic needs of the people there. There is a free clinic that is much more effective at treating people. 

While the tents in Mario’s neighborhood are not terribly close together, there are other neighborhoods where they are. Where there had been a basketball court, literally 160 tents crowded into neat rows were. This was the more recent people who have arrived. While each of the other “neighborhoods” are separated into separate nationalities. Though people of Honduras and El Salvador are housed together. There is one neighborhood of indigenous people from the Mexican state of Chiapas and another people fleeing the violence in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

At the end of the afternoon we met with Cathy Potter, the lawyer who took this case as low pro bono. We met at the new resource center where lawyers can meet with their clients and where refugees can seek support. The resource center opened one week after I visited in October, and its heartening to see it up and running. 

Tomorrow I attend the hearing of Mario. I pray it goes well, and he and his family can leave this place where so many people wait in impoverished conditions, even if the conditions have improved. 

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