Illinois Congressman Visits Crisis At Southern Border | WBEZ
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Illinois Congressman Visits Crisis At Southern Border

Seventeen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Illinois congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, spent Friday morning seeing firsthand how the “Remain in Mexico” policy is being implemented at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Under the Trump administration policy, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, asylum seekers at the southern border are required to wait in Mexico while their cases work their way through immigration court. More than 56,000 asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexico since the policy was implemented a year ago.

The congressional delegation visited a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, where thousands of asylum seekers have been living right next to the international bridge connecting the border city to Brownsville, Texas. Migrants there have built a makeshift tent city using donated tents. They have made open fire stoves from mud.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, who organized the delegation, called the living conditions “inhumane.”

“We got to see how they’re having to exist,” Castro said. “And to know that the president of the United States, of my country, is responsible for this, it’s devastating.”

Asylum seekers rely on donations from Americans who cross the bridge daily to deliver food and water. They say they’re desperate to get out of the tent city because when it rains, the entire camp is so muddy that people have to walk barefoot so that they don’t become stuck.

“The president himself should come here to see what the policy is doing to people,” said Castro, who added that the Mexican government is also complicit.

Members of the delegation called on the United Nations to go to Mexico and help asylum seekers. They also said they would fight to end the policy.

“We see the inhumanity, and we vow to redouble every effort we can to end the policy and restore decency to our asylum system and process and proud history as a country,” said Garcia, a Chicago Democrat.

“We’ve been complicit in supporting bad governments in Central America. They’ve been corrupt, and they’ve violated civil rights,” Garcia said.

Lawmakers spent the morning meeting asylum seekers and hearing their stories.

Garcia met with 30-year-old Karen Alvarez from Honduras. She told him how desperate she was because her son had broken his leg.

Maria Ines Zamudio/WBEZ
Karen Alvarez (right) lives in a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico. Alvarez is from Honduras, and she's seeking asylum in the U.S. On Friday, she met with U.S. Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (left), who visited the camp along with other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“My kids don’t want to be here anymore,” Alvarez told Garcia.

“Who took care of him?” Garcia asked her. The little clinic, she answered.

That “little clinic” is run by a nonprofit, Global Response Management. Lawmakers visited the clinic that uses volunteer doctors and staff. Helen Perry, the clinic’s executive director, said the situation at the camp is dire. The children are vulnerable, and they’re getting sick, she said.

Perry’s group has a medical unit in the camp, and they provide medical care to migrants. She said they see between 50 and 60 patients each day.

Perry said the Mexican hospitals don’t provide care to asylum seekers. She said the volunteer doctors often have to figure out how to care for migrants.

For example, Perry said a migrant who suffered a heart attack was taken to the hospital, but the hospital released him without providing care. Perry said she worked with the migrant to document his health concerns and to try and get him across the border.

kids play at migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico
Maria Ines Zamudio/WBEZ News
Kids play at the migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico. Hundreds of children live in the makeshift tent city. Volunteers provide them with school lessons, books and medical care, but advocates say children are vulnerable there.

The lawmakers also visited temporary tent immigration courts in Brownsville, Texas where the asylum cases are heard via videoconferencing. Those courts are supposed to be open to the public and the press but only congressional delegations have been allowed in.

María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.

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