A butter yellow sun rose over the crowded tent camp across the river from Texas and a thick heat baked the rotten debris below, a mixture of broken toys, human waste and uneaten food swarming with flies.
Clothing and sheets hung from trees and dried stiff after being drenched and muddied in a hurricane the week before.
As residents emerged from the zipper-holes of their canvas homes that morning in August, some trudged with buckets in hand toward tanks of water for bathing and washing dishes. Others assembled in front of wash basins with arms full of children’s underwear and pajamas. They waited for the first warm meal of the day to arrive, though it often made them sick.
The members of this displaced community requested refuge in the United States but were sent back into Mexico, and told to wait. They came there after unique tragedies: violent assaults, oppressive extortions, murdered loved ones. They are bound together by the one thing they share in common — having nowhere else to go.
“Sometimes I feel like I can’t hold on anymore,” said Jaqueline Salgado, who fled to the camp from Southern Mexico, sitting outside her tent on a bucket as her children played in the dirt. “But when I remember everything I’ve been through, and how it was worse, I come back to the conclusion that I have to wait.”
Ms. Salgado is one of about 600 people stranded in a place that many Americans might have thought would never exist. It is effectively a refugee camp on the doorstep of the United States, one of several that have sprung up along the border for the first time in the country’s history.
After first cropping up in 2018, the encampment across the border from Brownsville, Texas, exploded to nearly 3,000 people the following year under a policy that has required at least 60,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for the entirety of their legal cases, which can take years.
Those who have not given up and returned home or had the means to move into shelters or apartments while they wait have been stuck outside ever since in this camp, or others like it that are now strung along the southwest border.
Many have been living in fraying tents for more than a year.
The Trump administration has said the “remain in Mexico” policy was essential to end exploitation of American immigration laws and alleviate overcrowding at Border Patrol facilities after nearly two million migrants crossed into the United States between 2017 and 2019.
The Mexican authorities have blamed the American government for the situation. But they have also declined to designate the outdoor areas as official refugee camps in collaboration with the United Nations, which could then have provided infrastructure for housing and sanitation.
“It has been the first time we have been in this situation,” Shant Dermegerditchian, director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ office in Monterrey, Mexico. “And we certainly don’t support this.”
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this week to review the policy after it was successfully challenged in the federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case will not be resolved until after the election, so those living in the camp have months of waiting ahead, if not longer. [Continue reading…]