On Monday afternoon, alongside the usual pedestrians, about 13 asylum-seekers waited on the Mexican side of the Brownsville-Matamoros Gateway International Bridge for the opportunity to legally request asylum.
That day, at least eight of the people waiting on the bridge where children. One child, a Honduran little girl sleeping on a wet piece of cardboard placed on the floor, was only five years old.
Although a few of the people on the bridge had arrived more recently, the majority of the people on the bridge reported to Neta that they had been sitting, sleeping, and waiting on the bridge since Saturday.
On Tuesday afternoon, there were the same people from the day before plus one more family, bringing the total number of people stuck on the bridge to 18.
Since then, several media outlets, including national outlets, have traveled to the Brownsville Gateway Bridge, hoping to talk to the families who are waiting to be processed at the bridges.
On international bridges across the Rio Grande Valley, similar reports have been arising of families stuck at the U.S/ Mexico division line.
Although the people currently waiting at the bridge are seeking to exercise their international and legal right to seek asylum at a U.S. ports of entry, to do so they must first set foot in the U.S. However, for at least a week now, Customs Border Protection (CBP) agents have been screening people who they believe are asylum seekers on middle point of U.S. and Mexico bridge, several hundred feet before an indoor processing station where people regularly show their IDs.
At the Gateway Bridge, people must now show their IDs both at the halfway point of the bridge and at the indoor processing station, causing long lines and delays.
A week ago, when Neta first heard of checkpoints being established at the U.S./Mexico line, Neta reporters scoped out several bridges. In Brownsville, we did not see any families at the bridge. However, we did find border patrol agents at the middle point of the bridge. When asked why they were asking for IDs twice on the same bridge, the agents admitted that they were there to screen for asylum seekers.
Border Patrol claimed they were “at capacity” and could not process asylum seekers at the time. When asked if that meant they were just turning people away, one border patrol agent said it was “up to them” whether they “go back or they stay.” It’s worth noting that upon entry into the indoor processing booth, we counted at least 21 open chairs.
Whether through illegal entry charges and the removal of their children if they are caught entering the U.S. without inspection or long and trying waits under the Texas elements for people attempting to lawfully request asylum at port of entries, in many ways, deterrence by any means necessary appears to be the general immigration policy in the Rio Grande Valley.
On Monday, I talked to two mothers who had traveled to the U.S. port-of-entry from southern Mexico. It was 2:30 PM, and neither they nor their children, ages seven, three, and one year old, had eaten all day.
One of the mothers said she and the children had slept on the bare bridge floor Sunday night while it poured and rained. She said they left the bridge because border patrol threatened to jail them if they did not leave. She was unsure whether or not to return to the bridge. Having been there for two days, she said it was very difficult to see the children suffer under the sun and rain.
On Sunday, when families were still waiting at the bridge, there was a Congressional delegation to the several border patrol detention centers across the Rio Grande Valley, as well as a Southwest Keys center in Brownsville, Texas.
Locally, Congressman Filemon B. Vela and Congressman Vicente Gonzalez participated in that delegation.
Some Congress members have talked about the need to channel more resources to CBP officers at the border and points of entry in an effort to alleviate capacity issues.
In February 2018, Congressman Vela introduced H.R. 4940, the Border and Ports Security Act. In a press release by Congressman Vela’s office, NTEU President Tony Reardon stated the legislation would allow for the hiring of 500 more CBP officers and 100 Agriculture Specialists “every year until the agency is fully staffed.” Reardon called this “the right solution to the current staffing crisis at the ports of entry.”
Neta reached out to Congressman Vela’s office and Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez regarding this situation. Since Gateway Bridge is owned by Cameron County, we also reached out to Cameron County Commissioners. As of yet, we have not received any response.
This morning, Neta traveled to the bridge once more time. This time, following media attention, there was only one family and an asylum-seeker left. It appeared that the vast majority of the people previously stuck on the bridge had been let in.
Over the last couple of days, there has been a high of about 92 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
The remaining family said that they arrived on Sunday. They slept on the bridge last night, despite heavy rain and thunderstorms that have left many local streets and highways flooded across the Rio Grande Valley. With the blankets, clothes, food, ponchos, and other supplies that volunteers have brought, they continue to wait-hopeful their “turn” might come soon.
Neta is coordinating with local volunteers who have been taking supplies to the asylum seekers daily. To support their efforts, we are helping them raise funds to meet the growing need for supplies and food for asylum seekers. Donate or volunteer here.