McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The government of the Mexican border city of Reynosa is working with non-governmental organizations and migrant aid workers to relocate a downtown migrant encampment to help protect asylum-seekers from cartel kidnappings, the leader of one group told Border Report on Friday.
“A delegate of Reynosa has talked about the closure of the encampment on the plaza and moving it to another location,” Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, co-director of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers said via Zoom on Friday.
“Luckily for us, we’ve been invited to a lot of those meetings and we get to ask questions as to why that’s happening,” she said as she was leaving from her home in Brownsville, Texas, to cross the border to help migrants in Reynosa.
The location has not been officially released and details are still sketchy, but the goal, she said, is to get an estimated 2,000 asylum-seekers off a tent encampment at the Plaza las Americas, which is located a mere block from the international bridge into Hidalgo, Texas.
“It will be another encampment but it will have protection of the city,” Rangel-Samponaro said. “The city would have more control. So the cartels shouldn’t be able to come in and kidnap people every day. There will be a difference in the protection of the asylum-seekers.”
Several drug gangs are in a violent struggle for control of this border town located just south of McAllen, Texas. The Northeast cartel, an offshoot of the once-powerful Zetas cartel, as well as the Gulf Cartel and even the Cartel Jalisco New Generation are battling in this industrial Mexican border city of over 600,000.
“The goal is, and we do agree, is to close that encampment on the plaza. Too many kidnappings happen on that plaza; too many assaults are happening. People should not be out there,” Rangel-Samponaro said. “We do agree with that. They shouldn’t be. If there is a safer location where the city is willing to offer Mexican military protection and police protection then we are for that. We want that. But how you get asylum-seekers onto that piece of property, that’s the part that we may or may not agree with. You need to be honest about this is what’s happening. That’s the tricky part.
Whether migrants will be required to wear IDs in the new camp, and whether a chain link fence will be erected around the site is uncertain. It’s also unclear when it will open, but Rangel-Samponaro estimates it should be operational in two, possibly three weeks.
Before it was shuttered in March, migrants who had been living at the migrant encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, 55 miles east, were forced to wear identification cards, and a high 8-foot fence was erected around the encampment that was patrolled by armed guards.
Many of the migrant families felt trapped in the encampment, but Matamoros officials — who had tried to level the camp in 2019 when it first formed — adopted those conditions in order for them to be allowed to stay.
In March, nearly 1,000 migrants from that camp were paroled legally into the United States via Brownsville when the Biden administration ended the Migrant Protection Protocols program known as “Remain in Mexico.”
But almost as soon as the Matamoros camp closed, families moved to Reynosa and the plaza soon filled with thousands of asylum-seekers.
Now there are increasing concerns that thousands more will end up in border towns and encampments, like this, when the Biden administration resumes MPP, as ordered recently by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A month ago there were close to 5,000 asylum-seekers in Reynosa and COVID-19 struck the camp hard.
Global Response Management along with Doctors Without Borders provides coronavirus testing to the migrants living in tents and on the ground in the plaza. But Rangel-Samponaro said there are no vaccinations offered by Mexican officials to them. And the United States government does not allow NGOs to transport vaccines south of the border to take to the camp.
“Most of the folks have had it already. But that could change again with a new variant or a new influx of deportees,” said Andrea Leiner, a medical worker with the GRM, who this week told Border Report they are studying whether the camp now has reached “herd immunity.”
Rangel-Samponaro, who does not speak Spanish, says she is grateful to be included in meetings with Mexican officials. Her request is that the migrants are provided lawyers to explain their rights and that families fully understand what is expected of them if they choose to move to the new location.
” I would like for a lawyer just to tell the asylum-seekers. ‘These are your rights. This is how it stands right now.’ And they make their own decision,” she said.