In February of each year, two sister cities, separated only by the U.S./Mexico border, celebrate their bi-national unity, shared culture, and tradition in a weekend-long event called Charro Days.
For those of us who grew up in Brownsville or Matamoros, the elaborate festivals and parades usually make it the best weekend of the year. This year, however, I found myself spending the drive from Austin to Brownsville preoccupied by the irony of celebrating unity along the border at a time when U.S. immigration policy divides us more than ever. The Remain in Mexico policy (MPP) has essentially stopped the flow of immigration, and created squalid refugee encampments on the Mexico side of the international bridge, where, absent any other options, families await their distant court dates.
Though MPP did not stop for Charro Days (even if we thought it might have, following the whiplash rulings by the Ninth Circuit court), the numbers of asylum-seekers suffering in Matamoros continue to grow. On this particular weekend, no one recognized this disparity quite as bluntly as the immigrant advocates in groups like Team Brownsville, a volunteer organization with which I have volunteered for the past two years. Every Sunday morning, volunteers from Team Brownsville carry books and school supplies over to the asylum-seeking children in Matamoros. The contrast on this weekend in particular was stark, as the volunteers stepped from Brownsville, where children were dressing up and dancing in parades, to Matamoros, where children are living in squalor; in dire need of food, basic education, and shelter.
The families and children affected by Remain in Mexico are unbelievably resilient, but deserve so much more than the abuse and trauma our government is forcing on them. The Escuelita de la Banqueta, also known as the Sidewalk School, is a good example of this resilience and determination. After suffering the trauma of migration through Central America and other distant countries, they are still determined to make positive use of their time. Every week, volunteer teachers spend an hour conducting mini educational and art lessons to mitigate boredom and stress through educational activities. Currently, 90-120 children attend the Sidewalk School every week. They sit on tarps as teachers rotate through the tents with different activities. Some kids sneak away from class to the library tent, where over 500 books line the perimeter in “biblio-burros,” the painted book carts that Team Brownsville wheels over the border every week.
Asylum-seekers themselves facilitate the library tent when volunteers aren’t at the camp. Right now, it’s run by an resilient, responsible 17-year old girl from Honduras. Asylum-seeking children are not threatening our borders. They are determined girls and boys like the camp’s librarian, who deserve to be dancing and smiling just like the ones celebrating Charro Days. Children at the migrant tent camps are some of the vulnerable people we at the Children’s Defense Fund-Texas are the most passionate about protecting. There are hundreds of children at risk every day of becoming the next tragedy as they are subjected to kidnapping, violence, and exploitation in Matamoros. The negative impacts of Remain in Mexico that are generalized in mainstream media are all true and important, but often leave out the severity of the situation for children and the damaging toxic stress this policy is creating in their young lives.
That’s why CDF-TX has stepped up to protect the rights of immigrant children. We work in local, statewide, and national partnerships to push back against harmful policies and regulations. We believe, fundamentally, that every child who cannot vote, lobby or speak for themselves deserves a voice that will fight for their rights as capable and deserving human beings. Immigrant advocates on the ground like Team Brownsville, and organizations around the nation like CDF-TX, won’t stop working until all migrant families are given a fair shot at asylum in the U.S.