Matamoros Witness Report, Part 4

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

Part 4 of 4
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Good afternoon,

Here is my last of 4 witness reports, and many thanks for reading these eye-witness reports. I am back home now and will return to Matamoros in less than 2 weeks. 

FAMILY SEPARATION

Is of enormous concern to people along the border. DHS related separations at the border, and especially in PACR and HARP, do not seem to be well-recorded or transparent in terms of the reasons for separation or how children and parents are tracked so that they can be at some point reunited. How many are separated from parents? from close relatives like Aunts and Grandparents? Why are they be separated? Where will they go?  How will they and their parents or close family members be tracked to be re-united? MPP takes this concern to an even higher level because at least with separations in the past parents were often held in detention or travelled to sponsors so it was much easier to track family members. With MPP, there is no tracking of where family members who have been returned to Mexico can be found. 

Perhaps this is a misconception of those of us working on the border and all of you have access to the specifics of each case, but if not, it seems like this would be worthy of immediate investigation. To be sure, everything possible should be done to prevent trafficking, but that is all the more reason to have tracking and transparency for such a delicate and traumatic action. 

Self – Separations are also becoming much more prevalent now with the danger and hopelessness of families returned to Mexico. Our group witnessed unaccompanied children walking up the bridge alone to come to the US, once 3 children, probably under 8, approaching CPB with their parent’s phone number written on their arms. The main reasons for this, and why it is accelerating, seem to be:

  1. Their parents have given up any hope of asylum as time and time again people they know in Matamoros are declined (so far only 1% in MPP achieve asylum – in my view primarily because of the lack of due process and access to legal support). They are faced with a true Heller-esque catch-22 decision that none of us as parents can or want to imagine. On one hand, return to your home country (or another one just as dangerous) with the realization that no matter how hard you try, it is highly likely that your children will never escape the gangs and gang life, and a violent death. Countless times we have heard this as a reason for families fleeing. Or, allow your children to walk across the bridge alone into an unknown future BECAUSE THEY STILL TRUST THAT THIS COUNTRY CARES AND WILL DO THE RIGHT THING for their children.
  2. Fear of children and families living in the cartel-controlled border area. Even though in the encampment there seems to be safety in numbers it is well known that the cartel hunts their prey just outside and sometimes inside the encampment. Some try to never leave the encampment, but to earn any money or for some services this is almost impossible. This is not a secure area. They only time in 10 days we witnessed security in or around the camp was during the visit of the Hispanic Caucus. Children and women are especially vulnerable kidnapping for trafficking. Most MPP families spend 5-6 months in the encampment subject to this danger so some are deciding to keep their children safe by allowing them to leave and enter the US, again, because so many still trust the US to do the right thing.
  3. In some cases, parents have actually disappeared. Kidnapped or worse, so there is no option. To be honest, in my 10 days I did not directly hear of these cases, but some have been documented by the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and, in my experience, it is totally believable given the prevalence of kidnapping cases in Matamoros. 

Some NGOs are trying to educate asylum seekers in the camp on what can happen to children who cross as UACs so they truly understand and are some are manually trying to do what they can to track children and family members, but that is a herculean task for a few grass roots groups. I understand some numbers about these separations may have been furnished to you, and I would guess that they much higher in reality. My understanding is HHS reported 352 children “indicated that their family is in Mexico” over the last 3 ½ months and were referred to ORR. Words matter. Many may not “indicate that their family is in Mexico” for fear of being returned…they say they don’t know where their family is. Were those included? Perhaps that is a question to ask to be sure.

No one reading this should sit in judgement of these parents or children. It will be convenient for policy makers to shift the blame to them. None of us are worthy of judging the parents. It is impossible for us to understand the fear, love, pain and hopelessness in their lives. The fact is, these separations are happening, are accelerating, and are a direct result of MPP.

PAC(S)R AND HARP

Many of us witnessing have an immense fear that MPP will be stopped – AND replaced by the acceleration of HARP and PACR, especially following KCucinelli’s remarks this past Friday (24 Jan) that, “I expect by the early part of February that these {HARP and PACR} will literally be implemented across the entire border, so maybe two weeks from now.” Can they possible be ready to implement something as complex with accountability? If so I assume the readers of this report are fully up to speed. Ending MPP is not the end game for those of us who find it inhumane, the same as implementing MPP is not the end game for those that want to eliminate asylum in the US.

The credible fear test is the first step in the asylum process. PACR and HARP are lightning fast programs basically strip out due process right at this initial stage. Asylum seekers have 24 hours to call family and an attorney and the case is heard usually in 48 hours.  An attorney, if one can be found in 24 hours which is virtually impossible, can only speak to client over the phone and is not present during interview. The asylum seeker can appeal a negative decision to a handful of immigration judges, but in a practical sense, almost none of these asylum seekers will find legal help in 48 hours for the first hearing so no one would know to appeal, or how.

 One attorney reported only a 10% pass rate in the pilot.

This front ends the destruction of due process. Almost none of these asylum seekers will even reach the courtroom before being whisked off to a non-safe “safe” country on a plane.

We will begin witnessing at the airports around Brownsville when we can. From what we hear on the ground it may be happening here, even though there has been no announcement. So far it appears there is little or no transparency about these programs. Where they operate? How many people have been flown to Guatemala, or elsewhere – where? The pass rate of credible fear? The reasons for denial? On and on. Again, perhaps you have transparency into these programs, but if not, they should be questioned in hearings and understood. 

The ACLU filed a suit (pending) in December to halt these programs and on 14 January the DHS Inspector General notified CWolf that they were beginning a review and inspection of some sites.

I would highly encourage non-staged and un-announced Congressional visits as well. 

HEALTH CARE

The only health services are provided by NGOs that rely on volunteers. In Matamoros Global Response Management handles about 1,000 cases per month out of their mobile trailer facility under the direction of Helen Perry. In addition to the most prevalent cases of respiratory and flu they encounter life threatening conditions of all kinds including heart, injuries serious forms bacterial and viral infections. In her words, “15% of the cases that we see are these critical patients that need emergent life-saving medical care.” 

Even with serious cases it is very difficult to get removal from MPP approved. I saw that in a short time with several cases presented on the bridge, 2 of which were successful only with Hispanic Caucus help. Now there is a case of a woman that is going blind. How can she live in an encampment? Another of a baby so sick the medical team is afraid to try to cross with her because the baby might die in detention without immediate care. Sometimes the answer on the bridge is that there is medical care in Mexico…I have no words for that. Often their team has to try to explain medical issues non-medical CPB staff who are at a serious disadvantage to make a medical judgement.

On 30 Dec, 2019 Homeland Security issued a directive on Enhanced Medical Support Efforts. The problem is that it applies to “persons in CPB custody along the Southwest Border.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect it is meaningless for those not in custody but who are enrolled in MPP. If I’m wrong I would be happy to be corrected.

Basic supplies are scarce and inadequate. As an example, one ER doctor volunteer told us that he wished they had enough dosage glasses to provide with medicines. He said they did not have many of the medicines and supplies needed to treat even basic issues. Flu vaccines are scarce in Mexico and expensive. Flu vaccines cost $55 a dose in Mexico compared to $11 in the US, but they cannot be brought over the border.

Again, these pare people that are fleeing their countries to seek asylum in this county and have been offered a closed door. The least we could do is to provide them some kind of humanitarian help, the most basic of which is medical care.

RED TEAM REPORT AND RESPONSE ACTIONS

I read the Red Team Draft as disclosed 4 December by Buzz Feed prior to going back to Matamoros in the hopes of seeing some progress on the report’s recommendations. Although it was not by any means a comprehensive or independent examination (conducted under the guidance of Acting Deputy Secretary of DHS) and it included no non-governmental involvement by NGOs or attorneys on the ground who have intimate knowledge of the situation, or the Government of Mexico, there were 16 recommendations to address. 

Of what I was able to witness I did not any meaningful addressing of the recommendations. 

What I saw, or more to the point, did not see, was consistent with the 14 January response memorandum by Mr. Morgan which did not address many of the recommendations. Moreover, the actions that were included were couched in vague terms and lacked the specificity to ensure accountability. Many were answered with “ongoing activities” or “will continue to” even though the current practices were deemed to be deficient even in the Red Team report.  The actions that were noted did not begin with the commitment “we will” but rather the relatively non-committal phrases of “make every effort, reinforce, advocate, further enhance, examine, explore, review.” In one case it is close to misleading. In discussing allowing more access to observers in the immigration court it reads as if observers can observe are welcome in the courts. That is only the case for the calendar hearings which generally are nothing more than arraignments. Observers are not allowed in the most important merit hearings.

Perhaps you think I am being too harsh in my criticism. In my prior business life, this lack of inclusion, specificity and accountability would never have been acceptable as a response to an audit or regulatory exam. And that does not even address what would have been needed to “close” an audit – action item completion and proof of sustainability. I see no reason we should expect less from our government than they expect from us. 


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