REYNOSA, Mexico – Amid scorching temperatures, the number of tents increases daily in this town across the border from McAllen, Texas, as some 700 migrants, including hundreds of children, set up camp in the Plaza de la República.
Carolina wiped away tears as she shared how she and her 12-year-old daughter, Genesis, were deported from the United States hours before.
“I’m desperate,” she said, her emotions still running high. The couple crossed the river to McAllen the night before, on a raft full of other people seeking to migrate to the United States.
“I don’t even have a house to live in – the hurricanes destroyed everything,” Carolina said sobbing, referring to Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which caused massive destruction in Honduras and the region.
Next to her was Jeny, a Honduran nurse who just arrived at the camp with her two children, Fani, 15, and José, 11. They crossed the Rio Grande on Monday night and told an agent gangs had murdered his brother. and father for the past four months. A few hours later, she and her children were taken back by bus to Mexico.
“I don’t even know how to find a tent to sleep in,” she said.
Reynosa encampment is unsafe for migrants fleeing violence.
‘Nobody wants to die’
Felicia Rangel-Samponaro runs Sidewalk School, a non-profit organization that provides classroom education to asylum-seeking children in six towns across the border. She said that two weeks ago at least six people were kidnapped in the square.
“[Gang members] enter the square, ”Rangel-Samponaro said. “They train a person. You hear the person screaming for help. Everyone is standing and watching, which is understandable. No one wants to die. “
Rival gangs and cartels often clash in Reynosa, a town of some 600,000 people in Tamaulipas state. The US State Department is warning US travelers not to visit the city.
There has been a recent influx as many families are returned to Mexico under Title 42, which was implemented by the Trump administration during Covid-19 and allows the government to turn back asylum-seeking migrants for for public health reasons. The Biden administration allowed unaccompanied minors to stay – but did not remove Title 42. Nonetheless, the Mexican state of Tamaulipas told authorities it would not accept families with children under. 7 years and that some of these families were allowed to stay. in the USA
The human border bottleneck is compounded by smugglers who fuel the disinformation of many migrants, convincing them with false promises that President Joe Biden will further ease border restrictions.
The dire conditions for migrants in the square prompted Rangel-Samponaro and his colleague, Victor Cavazos, to take charge of pre-interviewing migrants to see if they met the conditions for asylum. Crowds surround them as they arrive in the plaza, imploring the coveted referral to immigration attorneys.
“They will wait as long as it takes”
Nearby, the Senda de Vida migrant shelter is at full capacity. Tents now line its inner courtyard. About 300 migrants are staying here, Pastor Hector de Silva told NBC News. He plans to expand.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop just yet,” de Silva said, adding that he had never seen so many children here, even though he had worked at the church for almost 24 years. .
Odalys, 7, sat with three other children at a Reynosa shelter, sharing what her young life was like. She was wearing a teal blue dress that church volunteers provided for her.
“If I didn’t leave El Salvador, they were going to kill my mother and they were going to kill me,” she said. Odalys’s aunt Deysis lives in Virginia and said she would look after them financially if they were allowed to. join her.
They cannot go back to El Salvador, so they will wait as long as it takes to get here, ”Deysis said.
Odalys befriended another 7-year-old girl at the Reynosa refuge. Alicia left Honduras in August with her mother, Maria, and 9-year-old brother. When they got to the US border, his brother convinced his mother to let him cross Texas on his own.
“He was crying and crying, saying he wanted to see his father,” Maria said. “I haven’t heard from him for three days and I was very nervous.”
Unaccompanied minors with relatives in the United States are often allowed to stay, and he is now with his father in the New York area. But Alicia and her mother Maria were turned away twice after crossing the Rio Grande.
“I was scared – I fell into the water,” said Alicia. Maria is determined to keep trying to cross the border to find the husband she hasn’t seen for two years. She is pinning her hopes on the Biden administration.
“I know Biden is a great president who has helped so many immigrants,” she said.
Many migrants on both sides of the US border said Biden was the reason they were optimistic about arriving in the US
Cesar, 39, of Nicaragua, traveled to Roma, Texas on a raft with a dozen others early Sunday morning.
“Because of President Biden, we are here,” he said. “He has a huge heart. “
Cesar left his three children and his wife in Nicaragua.
“Latinos are hard working people,” he said in the English he learned, hoping to work in the United States.
Back in Reynosa tent camp, Rangel-Samponaro said Biden’s election is fueling at least part of the wave, as smugglers exploit him to convince migrants to risk everything.
“I think it’s mainly the perception that Biden gained and now anyone can come to the United States,” she said. “Unfortunately, we are the ones who have to tell them that is not the case.”
“No one should be living there, ”she said of the camp. “It’s wrong and no one should be okay with it.”
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