Educators and other volunteers walk from the bus station in Brownsville, TX, across the Rio Grande to Bridge Plaza in Matamoros, Mexico. Each pulls a wagon of food, basic necessities, and donated clothing and shoes. What began as a modest effort to help those seeking asylum in the United States has evolved into a robust non-profit entity called Team Brownsville.
Cynthia Smith, Lawrence-area attorney, activist and volunteer, visited Brownsville in late 2019. She described the situation to Lawrence journalists when she returned, declaring “these are human beings” and deserve our help.
Brownsville educators initiated assistance to asylum seekers when the Department of Homeland Security changed the protocols for people seeking admission to the U.S. These people are attempting to enter the United States legally. They are individuals and families who are running for their lives from drug cartels and gangs. Smith pointed out that they were peaceful, organized, industrious, and grateful for help.
Each person or family seeking asylum is interviewed. If they are deemed to have a “credible fear,” they are referred to immigration court. In the past, they were released into the US with papers to await their court date and could find work and live productively. Rules in place since January 2019, however, require them to await their court date in Mexico. Most squat in tent cities just across the border. They have neither resources to be self-sufficient nor other types of support.
Thanks to the on-going attention of Team Brownsville and their own contributed labor, the 1200 residents of the tent city in Matamoros now have water for washing and drinking, portable toilets, showers, and space to ward off COVID infection . Another non-profit offers medical care. Volunteers deliver and serve food daily. They provide “sidewalk schools” for the children. These basics provide invaluable dignity to those who live in this situation.