REYNOSA, Mexico — Amid scorching temperatures, the number of tents is growing every day in this town across the border from McAllen, Texas, as some 700 migrants, including hundreds of children, set up their camp in the Plaza de la República.
Carolina wiped away tears as she recounted how she and her 12-year-old daughter Genesis were deported from the United States hours earlier.
“I’m desperate,” she said, her emotions still running high. The couple had crossed the river to McAllen the previous night, on a raft filled with others seeking to migrate to the United States. They were held for about six hours, they said, and crossed the bridge by bus to Reynosa.
“I don’t even have a house to live in – the hurricanes destroyed everything,” Carolina said sobbing, referring to hurricanes Eta and Iota, which caused massive destruction in Honduras and the region.
Next to her was Jeny, a Honduran nurse who had just arrived at the camp with her two children, Fani, 15, and José, 11. They crossed the Rio Grande on Monday night and told an officer that gangs had murdered his brother. and her father for the past four months. A few hours later, she and her children were taken by bus back to Mexico.
“I don’t even know how to find a tent to sleep in,” she said.
The Reynosa camp is hardly safe for migrants fleeing violence.
‘No one wants to die’
Felicia Rangel-Samponaro runs Sidewalk School, a non-profit organization that provides classroom education to asylum-seeking children in six towns across the border. She said that two weeks ago at least six people were kidnapped from the square.
Gang members are “entering the square,” Rangel-Samponaro said. “They are dragging a person. You hear the person screaming for help. Everyone stands and watches, which is understandable. Nobody wants to die.”
Rival gangs and cartels often clash in Reynosa, a town of some 600,000 people in Tamaulipas state. The US State Department warns American travelers not to visit the city.
It has seen a recent influx as many families are being sent back to Mexico under Title 42, which was implemented by the Trump administration during Covid-19 and allows the government to refuse migrants seeking asylum on grounds of public health. The Biden administration allowed unaccompanied minors to stay – but did not scrap Title 42. Yet the Mexican state of Tamaulipas has told authorities it will not accept families with children under the age of 7 years, and some of these families have been allowed to stay in the United States
To compound the human bottleneck at the border, smugglers provide false information to many migrants, convincing them with false promises that President Joe Biden will further ease border restrictions.
The dire conditions for migrants in the square prompted Rangel-Samponaro and his colleague, Victor Cavazos, to take it upon themselves to pre-interview the migrants to see if they qualify for asylum. Crowds surround them as they arrive in the square, begging for the coveted dismissal from immigration attorneys.
“They will wait as long as necessary”
Nearby, the Senda de Vida migrant shelter is packed. Tents now line its inner courtyard. About 300 migrants are staying here, Pastor Hector de Silva told NBC News. He plans to expand.
“I don’t see if it’s going to stop right away,” de Silva said, adding he’s never seen so many children here, even though he’s worked at the church for almost 24 years. .
Odalys, 7, sat with three other children at a shelter in Reynosa, sharing what her young life was like. She wore a teal dress that the church volunteers got her.
“If I didn’t leave El Salvador, they were going to kill my mother and they were going to kill me,” she said. Odalys’ aunt, Deysis, lives in Virginia and said she would take care of them financially if they were allowed to do so. join her.
They can’t go back to El Salvador, so they’ll wait as long as it takes to get here,” Deysis said.
Odalys befriended another 7-year-old girl at the Reynosa shelter. Alicia left Honduras in August with her mother, Maria, and her 9-year-old brother. When they arrived at the American border, his brother convinced his mother to let him enter Texas alone.
“He was crying and crying, saying he wanted to see his dad,” Maria said. “I didn’t hear from him for three days and I was very nervous.”
Unaccompanied minors with relatives in the United States are often allowed to stay, and he is now with his father in the New York area. But Alicia and her mother Maria have been turned away twice after crossing the Rio Grande.
“I was scared – I fell in the water,” Alicia said. Maria is determined to keep trying to cross the border to find the husband she hasn’t seen in two years. She places her hopes in the Biden administration.
“I know Biden is a great president who has helped so many immigrants,” she said.
Many migrants on both sides of the US border said Biden was the reason they were optimistic they would make it to the US
Cesar, 39, from Nicaragua, traveled to Roma, Texas, on a raft with a dozen others early Sunday morning.
“Because of President Biden, we’re here,” he said. “He has a huge heart.”
Cesar left his three children and his wife in Nicaragua.
“Latinos are hard working people,” he said in the English he learned, hoping to work in the United States.
Back at the Reynosa tented camp, Rangel-Samponaro said Biden’s election was fueling at least part of the wave, as smugglers exploited it to convince migrants to risk it all.
“I think it’s mainly the perception that Biden won and now everyone can come into the United States,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s us who have to tell them that’s not the case.”
“No one should live there,” she said of the camp. “It’s wrong and no one should be okay with it.”
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