Migrants carry on as anti-immigrant sentiment builds in Matamoros

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MATAMOROS, TAMAULIPAS – Anti-immigrant sentiment is growing in Tamaulipas with residents voicing concerns against the hundreds of people camped by the border. In spite of negative rhetoric, migrants in Matamoros are striving to keep a sense of normalcy in their daily lives.

Beaded sandals stepped hesitantly across a dirt floor. For one night, balloons and humble decorations turned a migrant camp into an event venue.

Wearing a sparkly red dress, a bit too long, a nervous 15 year-old girl was taking her last steps as a child and the first ones into womanhood. Lovers gazed nostalgically at the event while younger spectators watched eagerly as they contemplate their pending rite of passage. This night belongs to Kaitlin Tatiana, the “quinceañera”.

Tatiana and her mom are from Honduras. They were sent back to Matamoros from the U.S. under the Migrant Protection Protocol where they've been waiting for the immigration court hearings since Oct. 2019. This night, her mom was so busy, she didn't have a chance to get ready for the big event. It's a struggle familiar to her, she said. "Because I'm a single mom. I'm father and mother to my daughter."

Away from the camp earlier that Sunday, anti-immigrant sentiment is building in Matamoros. Alberto Riveras Sanchez organized an event where citizens wanted to voice their thoughts.

"What concerns us residents of Matamoros is the issue of health and security," he told a group of reporters who composed nearly half of the crowd of 50 who'd gathered at the plaza for the event.

“Everyone who is here are friends of mine, just people I know," he said adding that many are afraid to participate and face reprisals.

Riveras Sanchez believes migrants are refusing to work, stealing, entering prostitution and spreading HIV – claims he could not corroborate.

Anthony Barberi, a pastor in Matamoros also helping migrants four days a week, said he has not witnessed the crimes being attributed to those staying at the camp. Though, they are starting to take hold.

“Unfortunately, due to so many negative comments by people like this man, and other people, the people from Matamoros are now upset, angry at the immigrants," lamented Pastor Barberi.

Barberi is stressing to his congregants a message of love from the scripture quoting Matthew 25:31-42 where Jesus spoke about helping the needy.

"If someone is a foreigner, an immigrant, receive that person and love that person. So, the scriptures are clear about loving everyone, including immigrants," said Barberi.

The message was in contrast with that of residents who went to the protest. Riveras Sanchez asked authorities to improve security at the camp.

He said, "We want state police to perform their duties showing their face without hoods. We want them out in the street, we want to get to know them so that we can get close to them."

State authorities like Enrique Maciel of the Tamaulipas Institute for Migrants affirms those staying at the camp are not strangers.

“The federal government has a database with names, last names, ages without mistake, they have that," he said.

Maciel also added that people with HIV are receiving treatment upon request. As for security, he emphasized the use of state police and the National Guard who are visible at the camp. He says crime allegedly perpetrated by migrants could be happening further in the city. He believes, "what the citizens want is more security in the behavior of the migrants."

Back at the camp that evening, party guests were treated to chicken legs and potatoes prepared in an open kitchen using a handmade stove. The family was expecting 70 guests, but in this camp sheltering an estimated 1,500 people, the party spilled out of the small canvas tent and into the open air.

Slices of birthday cake shrank from two to an inch as the party wrapped up. The family was able to pull it off with a shoestring budget. The mom says she was able to save money from a job she's got in Mexico and with the financial help from friends often referred to as “padrinos” in quinceañeras.

The birthday girl's mom admitted, "I struggled to work. I worked and worked and I found a job. I saved, saved, and saved. And with the help of two friends, I got the support I needed."

By 11:30 p.m., the magic transforming the campsite was gone, and the migrants returned back to their tents for the night, many hoping to be home soon, wherever that may be.


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