Mexican Officials Continue Push To Move Migrants From Encampment
The Mexican government is attempting to clear out one of the tent encampments in Matamoros where more than 1,500 asylum seekers have been living for months.
These families are waiting for their immigration court cases to move forward in the U.S. under President Trump's Remain in Mexico policy.
The Mexican government has tried to get people out of the encampment for months. Most recently, officials hope migrants will move under new, tent-like structures that were just built nearby.
And last month a Mexican official with the federal child welfare agency came to the camp and threatened to separate children from their families. The official said if they didn’t move to a new government-run shelter, that was a 30-minute walk from the International Bridge, children could be sent back to their home countries.
This weekend dozens of Mexican immigration officials, federal police and National Guard were scattered throughout the encampment.
Enrique Maciel, a regional delegate for Tamaulipas Institute for Migrants, spoke to a group of migrants about the new government structure he wants them to move to by the Rio Grande.
“You, or anyone else, can’t tell me that it’s more comfortable to be outside, than at the minimum be under a tall tent where you’re going to have a lot of benefits,” Maciel told a group of migrants who stood around him. “The groups from the Rio Grande Valley, the ones that come to help, will continue to help in the tent.”
Some migrants are hesitant to cooperate with Mexican officials.
“It is not an obligation,” Maciel said. “It is recommended, it’s healthy, for the benefit of your families to go to a place more hygienic.”
Melissa is from Honduras and was in the crowd where Maciel and other Mexican officials spoke.
“They got here about an hour ago saying it would be voluntary, but if we didn’t move voluntarily, then they would come to move us,” she said. “They told us yesterday that they wouldn’t bring so much law enforcement, but if you look around it’s like we were in Iraq and a bombardment is about to begin.”
Melissa said she’s not going to move from the area, but others at a different part of the encampment have started moving their tents. Melissa said it’s because those migrants are new and have recently arrived.
“They’re trying to scare and pressure them. But we who have been here for months, trust me, the pressure, the fear, I don’t suffer from it anymore,” Melissa said.
Two teenage boys in the encampment gathered their belongings, then started picking up their tent. On top of their tent was a black trash bag that helps provide further protection from the elements.
The boys made their way up some steps that lead to an area where the new government tent structures are. One of the boys said they moved their tent because the officials were kicking them out of the area where they were at.
Dozens of families have also now moved their tents under the tall government carps.
Some families under this tent worry about future rainfall because it’s in a low lying area on dirt without any proper drainage. They also had concerns about whether, or not, they’d be able to come and go as they please whenever they want.
One man, who didn’t want his name used because he fears speaking will put him in danger, said he was also told if he didn’t move, he would be forced to.
“To avoid any types of problems we decided to come,” said the man.
A woman, who also didn’t want her name being used, is now neighbors with the man under the government tent said she was told the same thing and that this doesn’t feel optional.
“There are federal police, there’s all types of police, it’s not that you want, it’s that you have to move,” said the woman. “If you look up, immigration, they all have cameras and so we feel intimidated.”
All asylum seekers TPR spoke with said officials told them at first the move is optional, but if they chose not to go, then they would be forced to.
Mexican government officials admit everyone might not fit under the new tents and continue to say this move is optional.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at Reynaldo@TPR.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos