MPP Report Card in South Texas

           President Trump’s Remain in Mexico Program, ironically entitled the Migrant Protection Protocols, (“MPP”) has now arrived in South Texas. The results have been horrific. Under the new protocols, the families fleeing repression and violence in their homelands may no longer simply cross the bridge and ask for asylum, as set forth by federal law. Instead they are placed on a list, and forced to wait for months in the dangerous region of Tamaulipas. Many are kidnapped or assaulted while they “wait their turn”. When finally called, they are permitted to cross and request asylum from U.S. officials. However, the families are still not safe. They spend several hellish days in the notorious hieleras, receive a court date, and are then unceremoniously dumped back in Mexico to wait for several more months until their hearings.

            The preliminary results down here speak for themselves. Pregnant women and parents with small children have been sent back to Tamaulipas. No shelters or protections of any kind were provided. The gangs went on a feeding frenzy in Nuevo Laredo. A priest who tried to protect the migrants in his shelter there has been “disappeared”. Meanwhile, in response to Trump’s threat of tariffs, Mexican military, police and immigration officers are doing sweeps.  A van filled with migrant families came under fire, forcing the parents and children to hide in the brush for days without any supplies. People who could not get a place in the overflowing shelters are being dragged away and deported back to the horrors they had fled.

            The testimonies are stark. One man I interviewed had reached the Reynosa area only to be stopped by police and taken to a remote abandoned house with several other migrants. They were told to pay a large sum of money, or they would be immediately deported. Their families paid. The man then hurried to the international bridge to ask for asylum, but was told by U.S. officers that he must go to the Senda Vida shelter in Reynosa, and “wait his turn”. He signed up on the list but there was no room for him to stay, so he sought shelter in cheap hotels and rental rooms. He tried to stay inside but every so often he had to do some odd jobs to eat and pay rent. Once he went for food and was robbed. Meanwhile, almost no one was being allowed to cross the bridge, and he was told he had several months to wait. He feared he would not survive, so he went to the river. There the local cartel folks seized him and collected their crossing fee: his phone, watch, all monies, ID card, and backpack with his packet of evidence for his case. This was the third attack during his five day stay in Reynosa. He swam, made it, and turned himself in at once to Border Patrol officers.


            He was promptly put into the government processing center, or “hielera”. It was so crowded that there were not only no beds, but no room for them all to lie down. Many slept in a sitting position or leaning against the wall. There was no privacy shield around the toilets. The air conditioner was cranked up to a brutal cold. The lights were kept on all night. There were no showers, soap, toothbrushes, or medical supplies. When he was finally taken before an official, he explained that he had been attacked three times in five days in Mexico and could not go back. The man ignored him, gave him a court date and sent him to Nuevo Laredo with promises of a protected bus to Monterrey and a protected shelter there.

            In Nuevo Laredo, a bus had just left and they had to wait for enough people to fill a second one. The group of MPP returnees sat in the INM office for over twenty-our hours with no protection. A woman went to get food and never returned. Four women and a child approached and asked how to reach the shelter. The officer pointed to a taxi. As they tried to get in, a truck full of gang members swarmed them and took them all away. The officer said that whatever happened outside the gate was none of his business. That night a desperate man ran into the office, pursued by a group of tattooed men who dragged him away. This is the same time period that the priest in Nuevo Laredo was kidnapped.

            The man’s bus finally arrived, but it had no protection. His group was taken to Monterrey and dumped in the streets in a dangerous area. The returnees all ran, and several were kidnapped from what I am hearing. The man managed to find a cheap room to stay in with a friend. They could not get jobs because they would only be there for a few weeks. Finally, one of them found a night job as a dishwasher, but he was attacked and chased, so he never went back. All were then threatened with kidnapping. I have helped two of them move to another area. The other will not leave his hotel.

            All the MPP people know they must return to the Laredo bridge the night before their hearing or lose their asylum claims. Needless to say, they are terrified.

            Meanwhile in Reynosa, there is growing panic amongst the waiting migrants who cannot get into the crammed shelter. A shocking percentage of them have already been kidnapped or assaulted at least once, and they are at risk of suffering still more attacks. They are now also at risk of immigration and/or police sweeps which are constant. I asked a friendly Mexican lawyer to arrange for some protective orders. We gave priority to migrants who live outside the shelter. We expected perhaps 200, and planned to cover that number in groups of forty.  At least 500 or more showed up the first day, desperate. We took pregnant women and families with children first, then asked for people who have already been kidnapped. The line was endless. We did nearly one hundred requests instead of the planned forty. When I left, people were grabbing at my sleeve and begging for help.

Please everyone. Call Washington!  The roof is falling in down here.     

Written by Jennifer Harbury

Nicol Bowles