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Heavy Rainfall In The RGV Threatens Asylum-Seeking Refugees In Reynosa

People lined up for food at the Reynosa asylum-seeker encampment during heavy rainfall.
Mayra Garza
Taken at the Reynosa encampment
People lined up for food at the Reynosa asylum-seeker encampment during heavy rainfall.

Roads are overflowing in McAllen from heavy rainfall, and the possibility of flash floods in poorly drained and low-lying areas increases as the downpour continues. Across the Rio Grande, refugees experience the same weather conditions in Reynosa, a city whose entire infrastructure has poor drainage. For those who can’t stay indoors, the rain threatens their belongings, including legal documents, and heightens disease risk in the refugee camp.

“In Mexico, three raindrops fall, and the whole thing floods,” said Mayra Garza in Spanish.


Video Credit: Mayra Garza

She’s a member of an organization called Mateo 25:35 that was at the campsite during some of the rainfall. While it still floods in the United States, Mexico’s poor drainage system exacerbates the problem in Reynosa, said Garza.

For the past several months, hundreds of tents and strung-up tarps have huddled en masse at the Plaza de la República — a park next to the U.S.-Mexico port of entry between McAllen and Reynosa. The space turned into a tent city afterTitle 42 policy was enacted under former President Donald Trump. It’s a code that pursues migrant expulsions under the pretext of public health. It was seldom-used until the COVID-19 pandemic, and has continued under President Joe Biden’s administration.

The volume of tents has covered almost every drainable surface in the plaza, mostly dirt, with waterproof material. The rainfall that does reach exposed patches of dirt can’t be absorbed because the encampment’s weight has compacted the soil to the point of impermeability. While the plaza is slightly elevated, the rain has flooded the roads and water is starting to overflow into the camp.

Still, the tents serve only as a temporary residence for people awaiting admittance to Sendo de Vida, the migrant shelter in Reynosa. Once admitted into the shelter they’ll continue to wait for the United States government to consider their case for asylum based on documentation they’ve brought for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But in Reynosa — less than a mile from the migrant’s intended destination — the primary storage space for their documents, personal belongings and food is usually a tent floor scantily protected by a zipped-up entryway.

With nowhere for the water to go and the entrance so close to the ground, it’s difficult to keep water out if they open the tent. Or for those that only have tarps, there’s little to no protection from water coming in through the top or bottom.

Low-lying areas in the camp retain stagnant water after the initial rainfall, attracting mosquitos and flies. These animals carry disease, which poses yet another health risk on top of COVID-19.

The refugee camp in Matamoros faced similar struggles. Erin Hughes, the director of Solidarity Engineering, worked at the Brownsville-adjacent camp before it closed.

“When we worked at the camp in Matamoros… so many people had all of their asylum documents just destroyed in one bad storm,” said Hughes. “So, there's a good chance that could be a result from the continued rain that's happening in Reynosa.”

Additionally, when their food gets wet, it’s likely to spoil. But in Matamoros, Hughes, her team and other volunteers were able to mitigate flooding by digging trenches that redirected the water away from the encampment. But this hasn’t happened in Reynosa.

Hughes said they would need the local government to approve the project because it’s a public space. Another option is to elevate the tents on wooden palettes but buying enough palettes is expensive and the camp isn’t supposed to be permanent.

“It's hard to decide to spend funding and spend money on something when you're not entirely sure how long it's going to be there,” said Hughes.

According to Garza, the Reynosa encampment is already more dangerous than the one in Matamoros. People have been kidnapped from the plaza because of their vulnerability living in an open, public space. But losing their legal documents to rain jeopardizes their goal of seeking asylum in the United States and Garza said, for some, it’s shifted their priorities.

“Right now they’re not worried if something will happen to them, they’re worried because they’re losing everything,” she said.

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