Covid-19 has come to our migrant camp. It makes ending the MPP policy even more urgent
Opinion by Sister Norma Pimentel – Washington Post
Last week, we learned of the first coronavirus case here in the migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico.
Take a moment, please, and pause to consider how remarkable this is in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. The city of Matamoros itself has recorded 1,200 cases; across the Rio Grande, 7,600 are known in the four nearby Texas counties.
Our camp is a makeshift “tent city” filled with about 1,500 vulnerable women, men and children awaiting rulings on their applications for asylum in the United States. These families are living in donated tents at the mercy of extreme weather. Here, the temperatures can rise above 100 degrees, and when it rains, the downpours knock down their only refuge and leave them in mud pits. Imagine living in such uncertainty, where even such basics as running water and a place to shower are nonexistent; where you have to depend on outside organizations for food, which you have to cook over a campfire. Like the prisons and nursing homes that have been breeding grounds for the virus in the United States, the camp is crowded with people who for now are not going anywhere.
And nevertheless, this camp has recorded just one case — a young woman from the interior of Mexico, newly arrived here along with a cousin and a friend. Following procedures then in place, they were placed in quarantine and those who showed symptoms were tested.
We can attribute the singularity of the case to the efforts of the many volunteers from Dignity Village Team, a collaborative effort of several amazing groups, who have committed to care for the asylum seekers since the U.S. government established the Migrant Protection Protocols in January 2019 and initiated MPP in the Rio Grande Valley the following summer.
While their success of fending off covid-19 up to now is laudable, the most important thing to realize about the larger situation is that it simply should not be happening. This MPP policy fails to address people with dignity. We should not have people forced to wait for asylum — trying to find safety for themselves and their families — while camped outside in the elements for months at a time. It is contrary to our laws and the dictates of humanity. The story of these asylum seekers has faded from the front pages of U.S. newspapers and from television screens but the cruel and unfair situation continues.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has made it more difficult to care for those who are arriving at the border each day. Since that lone covid-19 case was identified, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has not allowed the camps to accept any new arrivals. So refugees are being turned away and have no place to go. Some are being placed in hotels or churches, and volunteers are desperately looking for other options.
Within the camp, we have had to limit the volunteers’ activities — there are 10 to 20 volunteers allowed to enter and help provide the people with food, water and basic health care. We have set up areas for washing hands, and try to provide hope and reassurance amid the uncertainty. All this makes it even harder to keep the camps safe from the cartels and gangsters who continue to prey on these largely defenseless asylum seekers.
That young woman who tested positive for the coronavirus has been transferred to a covid-19 center operated by Doctors Without Borders. We pray for her recovery, and we pray for all the families’ safety, for their protection and for a resolution to their untenable situation.
While I know many people in many places are dealing with so much, I urge you not to look away from the border in this moment. Do not ignore the suffering occurring here. It is time that we put an end to it, and to end the MPP policy. Until that happens, we will continue to help those who are defenseless, whose only real “crime” is trying to seek protection for themselves and their families.