Migrants face freezing temperatures on the border
Migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border face the dangerously low temperatures sweeping through the country this week, many of them outdoors.
Local officials and NGOs in the Mexican border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros said that some migrants, more than 300 in Matamoros, still remain outdoors after authorities displaced more than a thousand individuals from encampments last month on the day after Christmas.
Francisco Gabriel Ponce Lara, emergency coordinator for the Red Cross in Matamoros, said the city began preparing over the weekend to offer assistance to migrants during the freeze.
“We’ll begin handing out blankets on Monday, and we’re working with Civil Protection to see what actions we’ll be taking into the night,” said Ponce Lara. “In past years, we’ve had migrants with hypothermia transported to local hospitals because they preferred not to be moved to our indoor shelters.”
Felicia Rangel-Semprano, co-founder of The Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, said migrants have avoided leaving their spots in the encampments because the government has permanently removed them without notice in the past.
“The asylum seekers—and I totally get it, [officials] just dismantled the encampment—feel more comfortable staying there,” said Rangel-Semprano. “So I get why they said ‘no, we're just going to stay and wait through this cold weather’. But Monday and Tuesday are going to be chaotic because there are a lot of children.”
Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, where temperatures are predicted to dip to 35 degrees by Wednesday morning, is still hosting more than a hundred migrants in an open-air encampment by the Rio Grande and more than 200 in a partially open outdoor soft-sided facility near a city hospital.
Reynosa has three smaller encampments with between 20 and 60 migrants living in each location.
Rangel-Semprano said this year will also bring a new challenge, as the Department of Homeland Security increased the daily appointments available for asylum seekers on its mobile app in May.
Apart from those with appointments waiting on international bridges, there are now migrants without appointments waiting there as well, in the hopes of taking a vacated spot.
“Those are the people who've been out on that bridge for two days, four days, five days,” said Rangel-Semprano. “And if they leave that spot, and the officer decides, ‘Okay, now I have space, but you went to the bathroom or you went to get something to eat, you missed it.’ Which has happened before.”
Rangel-Semprano has been using donations to The Sidewalk School to provide heaters at the bridges for individuals who may choose to stay there this week.
In the last few weeks, some migrants have rerouted to other more remote parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, further from land ports, such as Lukeville, Arizona and, most recently, to towns north of Eagle Pass to avoid the Texas Military Department’s recent takeover in that area.
Jenn Budd, an ex-border patrol agent and the author of the book “Against the Wall," said low temperatures are some of the most dangerous conditions for migrants traveling across the border in remote areas.
“We saw migrants dead from the heat in the summertime, and we saw migrants frozen to death [in the winter],” said Budd. “And so what happens when they freeze to death is they start to feel hot, because their brains are starting to freeze. And so quite often we would find them naked because they thought they were boiling to death in the cold.”
Ponce Lara said that on a few occasions in years past, some individuals have tried to cross the river during similar temperatures in Matamoros, but that the Red Cross has been visiting with migrants to dissuade them from any attempts to do so this week.
The Red Cross plans to share pan dulce and hot chocolate with migrant families in Matamoros and Reynosa, as they visit encampments and keep an eye out for anyone who may need assistance.