Matamoros Witness Report, Part 3

16 mins read
Photo originally posted on Witness at the Border.

Part 3 of 4
Part One
Part Two

Thank you for reading my witness reports. They take me hours to compose, probably because I am slow, and I want to especially thank those of you who have different points of view, especially if you read these, which I hope you did. If not, I hope you will. 

This is my last one, save a medical report. We have not been witnessing medical cases because those conversations are highly personal and the US volunteer doctors are constantly busy with patients. They will send me a report for you when they can breathe and get something down on paper. It will be an important piece to read. I know this is more than I promised I would send, but I feel it is my responsibility to send my witness on behalf the subjects of MPP, and you can decide if you have a responsibility to read. Thanks.


As I hope you recall from my first witness report, there were 3 Moms with Mexican-born babies (one with pneumonia) that Project Corizan and a doctor with Global Response Management presented with our witness and that were denied, at least 3 times, even though they had a legal right to exit MPP and continue their asylum process in the US. There was also a 6 year old girl with Downs and a heart problem that had been denied a humanitarian entrance at least 5 times. The role of Witness at the Border is to witness and report, not necessary action. But sometimes they become one and the same because the act of witnessing is to see what others do not. That, and because we are humans that care. 

Again, they were denied and after Alessandra and I walked these brave and stoic Moms back to their tents they broke down and cried for the first time. So did we. We knew 17 members (18?) of the Hispanic Caucus, at the invitation of Rep. Vela, and under the leadership of Rep. Castro, would be touring the camp the next morning, and we were resolved to find a way to ask for help. That night, about 8pm, I went to see the supervisor that denied access and requested his supervisor. We had a very civil conversation and through that conversation I determined that the reason they kept giving us “there is no room” was a euphemism for we are too busy with other things like visa requests. I suggested that Moms with babies that have a legal right to enter should be prioritized over things like that and I told her, so there were no surprises, that we would try to ask members of the Caucus the next day for help. 

The next morning, amidst the 50 or so Mexican National Guard in full battle garb, Alessandra and I were able to get next to and talk to a number of Representatives and happily they engaged and sincerely wanted to help on the bridge at the border line. I went back to the bridge to be with Corizan, the doctor and the families. We needed a supervisor or nothing would happen and the delegation was on tight time. They normally would come if requested in 5-10 minutes. Not today. It was obvious to me that there was some stonewalling taking place so after 40 minutes and with the pressure of the imminent arrival of the delegation I became very aggressive in my objection to the stonewalling and our request for a supervisor.  I was very clear that the Chair of the HC probably would want to discuss this on the border line since the families could not cross that line. Most of the delegation passed to continue their tour, but some stayed with us and at that moment the Chief arrived. Rep’s. Castro and Lujan then spoke to the Chief and the families crossed surrounded by, Rep’s. Kapur, DiLauro, and Barragan, Corizan, the doctor and our witness. I assume we had permission, but I am not entirely sure. In the parole processing center these Representatives stayed with us an hour, missing the rest of the tour, to ensure these families would be paroled into the US to pursue their asylum claims. Their compassion, commitment and actions to help, in the moment, was inspiring. About 6 hours later all the families were paroled and Corizan settled them in a hotel for the night before they travelled to their sponsors. After refreshing we all had dinner together. The Mom of the girl with Downs said her son had not smiled in almost 2 years. He was smiling now because as he told us, he had dreamed of this day for 2 years because it had been two years since he saw his father, and not he would tomorrow. A doctor in Philadelphia agreed to treat the girl for free.

That was wonderful, BUT….Why was is it so hard to do the right and legal thing? Why the obvious stonewalling? Why did it take 5 MOCs to make this happen? What happens next when there are no MOCs around?  The answer to me is that it will continue to happen until the MPP is stopped (and also HARP and PACR) and we again begin to respect both the moral and legal precepts of asylum. 

Please do not consider this as an aberration, a single incident. From our witness so far, this recitation is a representative example of the non-compliance (or at a minimum non-cooperation) with legal and humanitarian rights, and of non-refoulement that permeates the system and which has been misrepresented in Congressional Hearings.  


Over the last 10 days we have listened to many, many people in the camp as part of our witness. We have listened to the selfless grass roots NGOs here and Nuns that deal day to day with the trauma. We will continue to do this. It is why we are here. We have heard the horrors of the deaths, kidnappings and rapes in home countries, on the move, and in the MPP program. We have tried to comfort as best we can, without giving hope, because unfortunately we have none to give. I know some of you may are suspect of stories you read and consider them anecdotes.  Let me be very clear here. The pain is real, and it is visible and to through these personal-to-person accounts as mere anecdotes and not representations of reality is grossly incorrect. What we are witnessing here is consistently consistent with the data and research we have read, and that many of you have seen, from Human Rights First and the University of California at California.  

From our witness, and mine personally, It’s no stretch that 1 in 4 MPP people has been threatened with violence and that 60% of those have suffered violence as indicated in the UC at SD study. I will attach to this note in case some have not seen that study. Extrapolation across the 80,000 MPP plus metered individuals would be 20,000 threatened and 12,000 suffering violence.

Human Rights First, in their latest report released today, reports “816 reports of murder, torture, rape, kidnapping, and other violent attacks against asylum seekers and migrants returned to Mexico. But our count is only the tip of the iceberg, as the overwhelming majority of returned individuals have not spoken with human rights investigators or journalists.” In the US it is generally accepted that only 1 in 5 sexual assaults are reported. To me, the non-report rate amongst asylum seekers would be much higher given the fear of cartel revenge and deportation. If for asylum seekers the unreported number is 1 in 15 unreported (not a stretch in my view) the numbers are similar to the UC at SD study. 


It is quite clear that in El Paso these stealth policies that annihilate due process are in full swing. We have heard from reliable sources that it may be beginning here. I saw a report yesterday of over 200 people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador flown to Guatemala from El Paso and Miami. To be honest, I do not have first-hand knowledge of this so I can’t say this with certainty. But it bears your investigation. Who reports this? What I can say is that these policies would render MPP unnecessary because people would be whisked off to one of these anything – but- safe countries without even a day in court. That is a huge fear, that MPP is ended and replaced by HARP and PACR. 


There is virtually none. There is a shelter in Matamoros, but few want to stay there for two quite rational reasons. The first, and most important reported to us, is that it is in the interior of Matamoros and the “hawks” of the cartels, who stand on the streets to spot obvious and vulnerable people, find it easy to prey there for obvious reasons. Most asylum seekers have families in the US and it is presumed they will pay the going kidnapping rate of 2k – 4k per person. So even if they are safe inside, as asserted by Mark Morgan in a Senate hearing, they are targets the moment they leave the shelter. It seems as though most spend 6 months on average through the court process there – if everyone stayed in the shelter it would be full in a few days, and no one can stay inside – they try to find work to sustain their families.

They also want to be close to the bridge, for some safety and those metered always hope today will be the day.

So, in Matamoros, that leaves the encampment of 2,500 along the levy of the Rio Grande. A community of small grass roots volunteer groups provide almost the entirety of the support. They do the best they can with money begged on go fund me pages. Food, clothes, hygiene, medical, legal. Rudimentary services that they will be the first to admit are inadequate, but with heroic efforts which they won’t admit.

And the residents reciprocate by doing what they can. They build structures from sticks, a few as kitchens that operate as small restaurants (recommendations on request). They dig drainage canals as some effort to channel rain water to lessen the mud. They clean the entire camp each day, a specific country each day. The resiliency of the human spirit is on full display. 

But, they are not free,

 and they cling to a hope that is dashed every day by the administration’s policies. That is what we witness. That is why we witness. To give us some hope. Because if we don’t have hope, we can’t give our brothers and sisters here some hope. 


I know many of you want the facts about what is happening at the border. Many of you I am sure are familiar with the Syracuse University’s TRAC data base. It is a rich repository of just not the raw numbers about apprehensions, MPP, court attendance, representation and asylum results by classification of asylum seeker. It also is very user friendly in terms of extracting information. Some of you might find it helpful in your research. Here is a short piece and it is complete with additional links.


Please. If you, or your boss has not been here, has not seen the camp and the courts with your own eyes, come. And moreover, see it without a staged tour. I saw Sr. Norma give the Caucus a very good picture of the camp. I can’t speak for the courts. Spend some time. Talk to some of the grass roots volunteers here. Listen to their stories, here their pain as they tell them. If you need help or contacts just let me know. Also feel free to join our FB group – if a few of you do we will break 14,000. Witness Tornillo: Target MPP. And you can see more about our witness at #WitnessAtTheBorder and #EndMPP. That was the commercial. We are shameless with our advocacy…and proud of it.

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