A few years ago, I was flying into Washington, D.C., to preach at a church. As we began to descend in order to land, the plane began shaking in an unsteady way. The pilot came on the intercom and said, “Please put on your seat belts. There’s a storm with tremendous fog and we cannot land right now, so we need to change direction and land at a different airport.” For the next 40 minutes, the plane flew slowly around D.C. until the fog finally faded away and we were able to land. As I walked off the plane, I was quickly reminded that it’s difficult to see what’s in front of us when something is blocking our view.
When it comes to the tent camp in Matamoros, Mexico, where nearly 2,000 migrants and asylum-seekers have lived since the summer of 2018, it’s difficult for many of us to see what’s really going on because so many false narratives are being shared and many people have yet to serve at the tent camp themselves. In other words, reading and hearing false narratives about what’s going on at the tent camp along the southern border and not experiencing the camp itself can sometimes block our view of what’s really going on there.
In March of this year, as COVID-19 was on the rise around the nation, my family and I moved to Austin, Texas, where my organization, The immigration Coalition, started serving the 2,000 migrants and asylum-seekers in Matamoros by partnering with One Mission Ministries.
We launched a campaign in which people from around the United States donated 9,500 diapers, 12,600 wipes, and 15 hand-washing stations for the infants and babies in the tent camp. We found months later, through our research, that there was no clean drinking water for migrants and asylum- seekers. In response, we started an initiative called Water For Immigrants to give each of these families a five-gallon water jug each week to help them stay hydrated and as clean as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. All of this to say, God has given us an opportunity to see migrants and asylum-seekers and what they experience on a daily basis.
Therefore, I want to share four facts about the tent camp in Matamoros to help you see migrants and asylum-seekers more clearly.
Terrible Conditions and a Site of Trauma
Right after crossing Brownsville, Texas, port of entry into Mexico, tents of a variety of colors are placed next to one another. Some are actual tents while others are patched together with garbage bags. Many have lived in the tent camp for more than a year. During the summer months, the weather is well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and these migrant families don’t have access to air conditioning to stay cool during the days. During the winter months, there’s no heater to keep families warm.
Migrants and asylum-seekers don’t have a washer or dryer either. They wash their clothes in the Rio Grande River where they also take baths. To make matters worse, the Rio Grande is not just any river—it’s a body of water known to be contaminated with E. coli and harmful bacteria. The Rio Grande is a site of deep emotional trauma. Migrants and asylum-seekers wash their clothes and take baths in the same river where many before them have either been arrested or drowned attempting to seek a better life in the U.S. For many, the Rio Grande is so traumatizing that they avoid the river altogether as if it doesn’t exist. Moreover, much of the Rio Grande is controlled by drug cartels.
As if these conditions weren’t bad enough, the fact of simply being located at the southern border comes with the added danger of natural disasters. In July 2020, Hurricane Hanna reached the camp where the Rio Grande rose, flooded tents, and countless mosquitoes descended in the aftermath.
A Pro-Life Matter
There are several pregnant mothers living in the Matamoros tent camp. There are also 500-600 children along with babies and newborn infants. Many of the babies lack enough access to fresh diapers and wipes to stay clean and rash-free. Oftentimes, babies are bathed in buckets. Children run around the camp’s dirt ground with no shoes or sandals because they cannot afford them. Mothers and children wear some of the same clothes repeatedly.
Recently, a pregnant mother, father, and their child threw a mattress in the Rio Grande in desperation to reach the U.S. for a better life—when doing this and not paying the cartel, it’s essentially a death sentence, yet the family made it safely. This story shows just how desperate migrant and asylum-seeking mothers and families are for their children and babies to have a better life. What would you do if you and your children were stuck in tents in the scorching heat without basic hygienic items? Imagine being a mother of a child or newborn baby and having to sleep on the ground inside of a tent during the scorching summer days and cold winter nights. Imagine not having enough diapers or wipes for you baby or infant. Imagine not having enough money to purchase shoes or sandals for your child. As a Christian, if you claim to be pro-life, then these conditions should disturb your soul deeply.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Some of the common misconceptions at the southern border circle around the idea that all of the migrants and asylum-seekers are vicious criminals and unlawful immigrants trying to ruin the U.S. However, these are false narratives rooted in a lack of understanding, and even in xenophobia and racism. First, the 2,000 migrants and asylum-seekers live in Matamoros, Mexico, not in the U.S. They are legally seeking asylum according to enshrined U.S. immigration law at the border and are waiting patiently to be processed. Most are fleeing economic hardship, violence, and potential persecution in their home countries. One might even say that they are refugees.
Second, many if not most migrants and asylum-seekers are Christians from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Cuba. Many of these Christians have church services throughout the week to worship Jesus and pray together in tents. Personally, I can’t help but wonder if God is bringing this multiethnic group of Christian migrants and asylum-seekers to the U.S. to show many American Christians what it really looks like to follow Jesus. Maybe God is bringing these brothers and sisters to the U.S. to share the gospel with and disciple Americans.
Stranded at the Border
The nearly 2,000 migrants and asylum- seekers living in Matamoros do not want to live there long term. Their hope is to be processed as quickly as possible to be allowed to live in the U.S. and start a new life with their families. However, through the Migrant Protections Program (MPP) implemented by the Trump administration more than a year ago, nearly 60,000 migrants and asylum-seekers have been sent back to some of the most dangerous border city towns to wait, including Matamoros. Furthermore, the president’s administration has used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to implement an emergency halting of asylum at the southern border.
“Migrants and asylum-seekers are people to love, not problems to leave stranded in dangerous conditions.”
In other words, migrants and asylum-seekers are stranded at the border due to a broken immigration system. What we are seeing is families who once fled their home country from gang violence, economic hardship, abuse, and persecution now living in border cities like Matamoros where the same threats chase after them daily, and each day that passes in these conditions increases their chances of injury, sickness, and even death. They don’t deserve to be stranded at the border like this. Migrants and asylum-seekers are people to love, not problems to leave stranded in dangerous conditions.
Oftentimes, reading and hearing false narratives about what’s going on at the southern border in Matamoros and not experiencing the camp itself can sometimes block our view from seeing what’s really going on there. However, learning about and understanding some of the most pressing facts at the tent camp can inspire empathy, compassion, and action. In light of these facts at the southern border, what is God telling you? What is God calling you to do?