Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville,Texas used to be typical sleepy (some even say boring) border towns with the Rio Grande River separating them, and the international bridge connecting them. On the U.S side of the border high fences can be seen, lined with layers of barbed wire; a wall is there to keep out ‘strangers’. On the Mexican side of the border there is no wall. There is a hill off the side of the road, right next to the international bridge, that leads to a plaza and a park and there are stairs decorated with mosaics, that provide access to the park. Entering the park was like entering another world.
This area now holds one of the biggest migrant camps on the border, thousands of migrants from around the world fled their native countries to seek asylum in the United States. They are forced to apply for asylum and then wait for months for a court date that will probably result in denied entry anyway. Less than 1% of these migrants will be granted asylum and 99% will be sent right back to their countries. Why? As the United States made new immigration legislation, less and less people have been allowed to enter.
In the early days of the migration camp in Matamoros, Mexico there were only around 150 people there, and the majority of the population were children. A group of women from Brownsville, Texas began to carry water and food to feed the families; they even set up a school that meets on Sunday mornings. However, when the new legislation that was passed further limited the amount of asylum applications that could be taken a day, this led to a dramatic increase in the number of migrants in the camps; resulting in a huge humanitarian crisis. Now there are more than 1,500 people there and they have made it into a community.
This community is filled with people who did not know each other prior to arriving in Matamoros, but has grown into a community that looks out for one another. Even with the odds stacked against them, the people fight to live with dignity. Parents fight to protect the dignity of their children. These refugees are treated worse than second class citizens. The U.S government blocks them from entering, while the Mexican people from Matamoros don’t want them there.
Yet, in the camp, the migrants make sure that no one is left behind; they make sure that the children are being fed, studying, and are regularly visiting the medical center. The children are the priority because there is a mutual understanding between everyone that the children are the future and they have to be protected. There is also an immense amount of organization in the community with men patrolling the camp at night to make sure everyone is safe and women clean up garbage to keep it clean. Still, however, conditions are rough with families sleeping in tents on tarps and with no running water or electricity.
World Central Kitchen (WCK) is an international organization whose main purpose is to feed those who have been affected by natural disasters or have been displaced. This organization arrived in Brownsville/Matamoros a couple days before I arrived there. This organization has set up a big tent right in the middle of the camp in Matamoros and the floors were covered by a white tarp. The goal of WCK in Matamoros is to feed the population of migrants, but to also have them fed with dignity. That is actually one of the specific instructions that the head chef gave us, “things, might get hectic [we’re feeding close to 1,500 people], but remember to we’re here to feed everyone with dignity and to treat everyone with respect. Look them in the eyes when you hand them food or help them carry their trays, and do not just throw food onto their plates.” This is something that I will never forget. WCK also hires a number of men from the camp to be in charge of keeping it clean and safe, thus providing some jobs as well as providing food. It seems like a fully functioning town.
Throughout this whole experience I kept thinking about a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy (10:19), “You shall also love the stranger then, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” We are called to do God’s will and to be like Christ, thus we must fight to keep families seeking asylum together and to remember that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity. Migration is natural and the United States is no stranger to it and now is the time to take action against the injustices that are happening.