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Asylum Encampments Remain Vulnerable To Storms' Heavy Rain And Strong Winds

In the early morning hours of May 12, about 15,000 Rio Grande Valley residents awoke without electricity and amidst extensive wind damage throughout the region. During the night, a storm unleashed flash flooding and wind speeds up to 62 miles an hour -- almost as strong as a Category 1 hurricane -- across the area.

For most communities on the U.S. side, power was restored and streets cleared by that evening. But just south of the Hidalgo-Reynosa International bridge, a tent encampment of immigrants waiting for asylum in the US erected at a city park struggled to recover from the long night of punishing conditions.

Felicia Rangel Semprano, director of The Sidewalk School, said the encampment braced for another wave of severe weather on Wednesday night. The school is a nonprofit organization that works with children at immigration encampments in Mexico to provide educational, legal and health care services.

“So we always get tarps, rope, and then you get the Gorilla tape to fix any holes,” she explained. “We’re still talking about tents here. So that’s the best you can do, sadly. Their possessions, yes, will definitely still get ruined because they’re living on the ground of dirt and grass.”

Angry Tias and Abuelas, a Rio Grande Valley based nonprofit that works with asylum seekers, is working with Catholic Charities to build a new shelter for the camp residents just outside the Senda De Vida Ministry in Reynosa. The organization hopes to provide beds, showers and other amenities. However, organizers said the shelter would not be ready before more bad weather struck the area.

South of the Hidalgo-Reynosa International bridge at a city park, a tent encampment of immigrants waiting for asylum in the US struggles with severe weather.

On Monday, the Biden administration made its first concessions in a lawsuit with the ACLU that challenges the Department Of Homeland Security’s power to use Title 42 of the U.S. Code -- a policy originally meant to protect public health -- to expel those seeking refuge in the U.S. The Biden administration agreed to begin to process asylum requests and eventually allow 250 immigrants in the U.S. every day.

However, Semprano said the daily rate was too small.

“So, you’re talking about an encampment that continues to grow daily because the U.S. keeps expelling asylum seekers to the plaza in Reynosa,” he said. “Let’s say that addition can hold 600 people. Right now, as we speak, there are over 700 people living on that plaza and growing.”

Semprano said that some cases were processed through existing exemptions. But even with the new concessions, he added, the number of expelled immigrants will continue to exceed the cases that do move forward.

“If we keep expelling people like this, no matter how many additions we build there will always be an encampment,” he explained.

The National Weather Service anticipates high chances of rain this weekend through Tuesday in the Rio Grande Valley.

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Pablo De La Rosa is a freelance journalist reporting statewide with Texas Public Radio and nationally with NPR from the Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, from where he originates. He’s the host of the daily Spanish-language newscast TPR Noticias Al Día.