The Camp: Update on immigration at the border of Texas and Mexico

Dec 12, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Helping Hands, Tales of Diversity

by Mark Redwine

Thanksgiving Thursday, eating turkey, watching football, thankful for all of my blessings, many of which I take for granted. Among my greatest blessings, and greatest heartaches, are the immigrants in the refugee camp on the Mexican side of the border at Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico.

Brownsville has been a focal point of the immigration debate. For about a year, immigration has been out of the newsfeeds and public discourse.

Two and a half years ago, when I first started working with asylum-seekers, people came from all over the world to America to build a better life. At that time, an asylum-seeker could simply cross the Rio Grande River from Mexico into the USA and ask a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent for asylum. They were processed, vetted, and if no reason was found to deny entry into the USA, they were permitted to seek asylum from inside the USA. This was called “Catch and Release.” But then came the Central American surges. The immigration system on the southern border was overwhelmed.

Feeding in the early days of the camp.

In September of 2018, a program called “Metering” went in to effect. Asylum-seeking was criminalized, asylum-seekers were treated as high-level felons, and national policies were put in place to make asylum-seeking progressively more and more unattainable and un-desirable. The goal was to limit (meter) the number of people seeking asylum.

The most legal way to request asylum was to cross the bridge from Mexico and ask an agent at the CBP entry checkpoint for asylum. Under Metering, a new checkpoint was set up by the USA halfway across the bridge. If you didn’t have papers to enter the country, you were not allowed to finish crossing the bridge and ask for asylum. Because of the nature of asylum-seeking, many did not have papers and could not pass. Instead, they were given a number and told to listen for their number to be called so they could be processed for asylum.

People started living on the bridge, as close to the first checkpoint as possible, waiting for their number to be called. At first, there were only twelve people living on the bridge. All they had was the clothes they were wearing, and what they could carry. There were families with small children and babies, and pregnant women, sometimes stuck there for months. No shelter, no food, no running water, no electricity, nothing to sleep on except the filthy, hard sidewalk. All they had was hope that one day they could cross into the USA and have a chance at a decent life, a chance for an education for their kids. They had hope in the goodness and kindness of the American people. Hope in the fairness and justice of a legal pathway to asylum. Hope that God would show favor to them.


People living on the bridge, close to the US guards

In December, it was damp and cold. Kids were getting respiratory infections, and suffering skin infections from crawling around on the nasty sidewalk. So, the Mexican Border Patrol ran them all off of the bridge in hopes that they would just fade away. Out of sight, out of mind.

The asylum-seekers found a breezeway at the base of the bridge to set up camp. Here is where I met Cami from Cameroon. There was (and is) a huge effort from Team Brownsville and Angry Tias and Abuelas (aunties and grandmothers) to keep them fed and warm, supply them with fresh clothing, shelter, medical care, to advocate for them and anything else it takes to keep them alive. I am proud to say that I am part of that effort. I became the camp pastor. I still am in contact with some of the people from the first camp. In fact, Cami from Cameroon will be at our house during Christmas. We are her family while she waits for the US Government to authorize her family in Cameroon to come to the USA.

The US Government made arrangements with the Mexican Government to allow them to send people across the bridge to be processed for asylum. The US side would say, “send ten people.” The Mexican side would pick the ones to send. That did not work very well because the Mexican side did not always pick numbers from the top of the list. Cami waited two and a half months for her number to be called.

That camp grew from 12 to 20. Then in January of 2019 the Mexican Government ran everyone out of the breezeway, and tore down the camp. The people went to a park at the foot of the bridge. They slept on cold, wet benches, on the bricks and pavement. No shelter. But Team Brownsville brought them tents and blankets and fed them and supplied everything else they needed to live. The camp in the plaza grew because people kept coming in hopes of asylum, but few were allowed to cross. That created a logjam of asylum-seekers in Matamoros. It started out at about 40 people and by July of 2019 grew to about 350. Under Metering, only 15% of the individuals were granted asylum. But, the people still had hope.

This is Kelvin. He was in the camp with Cami. It took him 14 months to win asylum. He fought his case from inside a Federal Detention Center. I picked him up the night he was released. Treated him to a steak dinner.

Then in July of 2019, a policy called Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) was put in place. This was also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Under this policy, no asylum-seeker was allowed to enter the USA to plead their case from inside the USA. This caused the camp to grow to 1,000 in the first week, to 2,000 in the second week, and to 2,500 by the end of the third week.

There are at least three hearings before an asylum decision can be made. It could take over a year to have all three trials. The people were supposed to prepare their cases from inside Mexico. That didn’t work very well.

Rio grande at the camp

The trials were set up for a judge to hear from a remote location. Each judge had a quota of cases to hear per day. Seldom was an attorney allowed in the courtroom, if there was an attorney. There was not always an interpreter. The judge was not allowed to consider all of the evidence. Because of the confusion surrounding running the business of the court, there were many errors that resulted in the removal orders for people who didn’t even know they had a court date or could not get to court. Under MPP, fewer than 1% were granted asylum. But, they still had hope.

In June of 2020, things took a drastic turn for the worse. A flood ruined the camp. A turf war between criminal elements in Matamoros was heating up, and COVID-19 restrictions went into effect.

Ready to cross food into the camp

Because of the flood, tents were washed away. Because of the turf wars, things became violent in the camp. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, no asylum-seeking would be allowed until the end of the pandemic. The people lost hope. The tents could be replaced. The violence would end. But under the COVID-19 policies, there was no longer a legal path to asylum. In one week, the camp went from 2,500 to fewer than 500 people.

The most draconian element of the COVID-19 policy is called expulsion, especially as it applies to children crossing into the US without an adult traveling with them. Up until this time, under the Unaccompanied Minor Program, kids were free to cross into the USA. They were put into shelters where their relatives were located. Then, the kids were sent to live with those relatives. Some parents with weak asylum cases, sent their kids across the bridge with contact information for relatives in the USA. They felt confident that the system would find the relatives and send the kids to them, knowing that they might never see their children again, hoping that they could at least stay in touch.

Expulsion is different than deportation. In deportation, a person has a right to see a judge. Then the courts decide if the case for asylum is strong enough to pursue. If not, orders of removal are issued and the person is deported. In expulsion, there is no chance to be heard in court. People, including children, are locked in a Federal detention facility. Then, they are put on a plane and flown to Guatemala.

Under the new COVID-19 restrictions, kids as young as two, are being expelled and flown to Guatemala. Young children are loaded onto a plane. The older children are in five-point chain shackles. The kids go to detention to be held until they are sent to another country. Not to find family in detention. This is actually a crueler method of family family separation. Our government also does this to adults. Sometimes they go to a “safe” third country or to the asylum-seeker’s country of origin, many times to face death from the people they were hoping to escape. We call these “Death Flights.”

There is more to share about how immigration is being affected. Stay tuned for the next installment.

If you would like to know more about Mark and Marilyn’s work on the border, or how you can help, like their Facebook page or email Mark for more information at mtmasai@aol[dot]com. You can also check out Mark’s previous articles that share more about the camp in our Tales of Diversity section.

Mark and Marilyn Redwine are voluntary missionaries in Brownsville, Texas which is right on the border with Mexico. They have been ministering the love of Jesus to the people there for the last nine years. They have two ministries. Both are to the most marginalized. One is to the people living in generational poverty, and the other is to asylum seekers.
Mark is a retired chiropractor. They lived in Butte Montana for fourteen years before answering God’s call to missions. In 2000, a young evangelist named Christopher Lewis (who just happens to be Lorie Lewis Ham’s Brother), came to the church Mark and Marilyn belonged to and Christopher asked Mark to travel to Africa with him. Christopher and Mark have traveled all over the world planting churches, doing evangelistic crusades and compassionate ministry. In 2009, Marilyn went to Africa with Mark. It was there both Mark and Marilyn accepted the call to missions.
Their first assignment was in February of 2010 working with Christopher and his bride, Karen, in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. Then in September of that year, they were assigned to Brownsville…….where they hope to live happily ever after, or until God moves them someplace else.

1 Comment

  1. Sad and just so terrible what these asylum seeking immigrants have to go through to try to get into the United States.


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