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Border & Immigration

During Border Visit, Joaquin Castro And Other Lawmakers Push For Families To Be Allowed Into U.S.

Some families were paroled into the U.S. and removed from the MPP policy, so they’ll now be able to wait for their immigration court dates in the U.S. and not in Mexico.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
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Some families were paroled into the U.S. and removed from the MPP policy, so they’ll now be able to wait for their immigration court dates in the U.S. and not in Mexico.";

Seventeen Democatic members of Congress arrived on the U.S. side of the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas on Friday morning. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus organized the delegation and invited other members of Congress to attend.

The lawmaker's objective while in town: cross into Matamoros, Mexico to investigate the impact of the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy, officially knowns as the Migrant Protection Protocols.

The policy forces to remain in Mexico for months as their asylum claims make their way through U.S. immigration court. More than 57,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico, sometimes in dangerous Mexican border towns, since the MPP policy rolled out last January.

Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities RGV, lead the members of Congress across the international bridge that looms over the waters of the Rio Grande.

Once on the other side of the bridge, the lawmakers saw a sea of tents where more than 2,000 asylum seekers have been camped out for months.

“It’s part of the entry of the country so people here in Mexico, the residents, are not very happy to have this camp in their city,” Pimentel tells them. “It’s very uncomfortable to see that and that’s the problem that the city and the camp is trying to resolve – finding a more adequate space for them. But the families don’t want to move from there because they’re afraid.”

Pimentel lead them through the encampment, which spread to a woods area near the river, as children said hello to the lawmakers.

Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities RGV, leads the members of Congress across the international bridge that looms over the waters of the Rio Grande.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities RGV, leads the members of Congress across the international bridge that looms over the waters of the Rio Grande.

Joaquin Castro was on the tour. He’s the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who said his caucus is working with the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to investigate the Remain in Mexico policy.

“The United States for generations was not only built by immigrants, but held a moral authority around the world as being a place that saved the lives of refugees and asylum seekers,” Castro said. “President Trump has lost the moral authority for the United States around the world, unfortunately.”

Last October Castro’s brother, former Democratic Presidential hopeful, Julián Castro, visited the tent encampment and escorted a group of LGBTQ asylum seekers across the international bridge into the U.S., but they were eventually returned back to Mexico.

Castro said they talked soon after his brother’s visit to Matamoros last year about what he experienced and saw at the camp.

“Our grandmother came here when she was 7 years old,” Castro said as he began to get choked up and teary eyed. “I was very proud of him, so I wanted to come, too.”

Delmer, who did not want to give his last name out of fear that speaking out will hurt his claim for asylum, is from Honduras and has been at the encampment for several months now. He’s seen lawmakers tour the camp before and said he hopes their visits inspire change and action on their behalf.

“It’s good that they’re here to see firsthand how we’re living day-to-day,” said Delmer.

Elizabeth Cavazos is with Angry Tias and Abuelas, a local organization, has also seen lawmakers come and go at the camp. She too said she hopes change is sparked from their visit.

“I hope that they see juxtaposed against all this devastation that there are people that are thriving,” said Cavazos. “They’re creating stoves, they’re cooking, they’re creating community and that’s who we’d be inviting into the United States if the policy was no longer in place.”

After meeting with asylum seekers at the encampment, the delegation went back toward the international bridge to cross into the U.S. so they could tour tent courts where MPP cases are held.

While the members of Congress made their way to the tent courts and tour the facility, a protest took place to demand the end to MPP.
Credit Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
While the members of Congress made their way to the tent courts and tour the facility, a protest took place to demand the end to MPP.

The tent courts opened last September in Brownsville and Laredo, Texas, but are unlike regular immigration courts because asylum seekers would meet with a judge via teleconference, and the public was not allowed into the facilities to observe hearings until recently. Earlier this month the tent courts opened to the public, but there were still issues with access.

As the group made their way across the international bridge there were several Central American families with children and an attorney at the dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico.

“We’ve been on the bridge for three days and trying to get families across who have Mexican babies, where the parents are MPP Central Americans,” immigration attorney Charlene D’Cruz said. “We got two across yesterday and we’re trying to get these two across, plus we have a Salvadoran family with a child with Down Syndrome and Autism.”

The MPP policy is supposed to exclude Mexicans and vulnerable populations.

D’Cruz has been helping asylum seekers with legal representation for several months now who have been sent back to Mexico.

“Yesterday they claimed she was not an emergency and so they refused to take her, so we’re back on the bridge because she has a heart condition,” D’Cruz said.

Several members of Congress passed by the group, but a few lawmakers stayed behind, including Congressman Castro.

“What’s the supervisor’s name?” Castro asked the CBP agents on the bridge.

Moments later the Port Director Ortiz arrived and spoke with Castro for a few minutes, then the families are allowed to cross into the U.S. side of the bridge.

Several hours later the families were paroled into the U.S. and removed from the MPP policy, so they’ll now be able to wait for their immigration court dates in the U.S. and not in Mexico.

While the members of Congress made their way to the tent courts and tour the facility, a protest took place to demand the end to MPP.

“We want immigration to change and we want there to be a spirit of humanity in these policies that are being written and enacted,” Cavazos from Angry Tias and Abuelas said into a megaphone. “Don’t look away. Now that you’ve seen it, do something!”

The members of Congress ended their day with a press conference highlighting what they saw and heard throughout the day.

“President Trump and this administration are forcing people to live in inhumane conditions because of his Remain in Mexico policy,” Castro said. “These are conditions that people seeking asylum and refuge in the United States should not have to endure.”

California Congresswoman Linda Sanchez also spoke at the press conference.

“We are here to try and hold the administration accountable, but we also need the American people to stand up and say we will not allow this to continue,” Sanchez said. “When we saw the separation of families at the border, the public outcry forced the administration to change policy. All they’ve done is change it across the border and they’re hoping out of sight means out of mind for the American public.”

The lawmakers called on the United Nations to help provide humanitarian help and said they will continue to highlight what’s happening with the MPP policy and will continue to push to end the policy.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at Reynaldo@TPR.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos.