Mexican immigration officials arrived at a refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico early Tuesday morning bearing machetes used to destroy unoccupied tents left behind by Mexican asylum seekers, according to multiple camp residents who witnessed the event.
Both refugees and volunteers said that an estimated 60 families, all Mexican nationals, were granted permission by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to cross the bridge and begin processing in the middle of the night on Monday.
Guidelines provided by CBP indicate that Mexican nationals are not subject to the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), however, a significant number of asylum seekers in the camp appear to be from states in southern Mexico, including Chiapas and Oaxaca.
A volunteer named José, who is authorized by Mexico’s National System for Integral Family Development (DIF) to bring loads of supplies from McAllen, Texas — identified only by his first name — said that families were called by numbers assigned to them by CBP.
José had just spoken to Enrique Maciel, Regional Delegate for the Tamaulipas Institute for Migrants, who allegedly informed him that the office met with Border Patrol on Monday night to discuss the transfer. Maciel was present in the camp in the afternoon but did not respond to requests for comment.
“They did it by the numbers — 1 to 100, for example. There are still people waiting right now,” José said.
At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, a line of around 15 refugees had formed at the first checkpoint on the Gateway International Bridge heading into Brownsville, Texas. A family of three at the end of the line said they had no idea if or when they would be allowed to cross.
“People woke up to empty tents and started rummaging through the stuff left behind. There was nothing wrong with that,” continued José. He added that Mexico does little to provide for the camp residents and that most of the aid comes from volunteer networks.
“They arrived with machetes to destroy the tents so that nobody could use them. It was uncalled for.”
Multiple camp residents said that officials with Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM), swept through the camp around 6 a.m. A young woman from Honduras played a video she took on her cell phone showing Mexican authorities dismantling tents. “I don’t know why they got rid of them,” she said.
The woman has been in Matamoros for four months and will not appear in court again until May 6, the earliest available appointment. Other residents said that they don’t believe the people granted entry this morning will be allowed to remain in the United States.
“It’s all lies,” said a man rummaging through a pile of clothing with family members.
Another volunteer from McAllen said the group is worried that those who were granted entry won’t be properly processed once in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A string of recent lawsuits filed in federal court in Brownsville allege unlawful, prolonged detention by both ICE and CBP.
Migrants not subject to MPP are turned over to ICE-Enforcement and Removal Operations or the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement depending on the specifics of their cases, according to a CBP official.
“We’re afraid they’re going to let them in, process them for a few months, and then take them to Laredo, or wherever — send them back,” she said, referring to the development as a “smoke screen”.
This story was originally reported for The Brownsville Herald.
All photos by Erin Sheridan.