REYNOSA, Mexico – On a remote stretch of Rio Grande flood plain at the foot of this city of 600,000 within eyesight of McAllen, Texas, more than 1,200 migrants live in tents behind the tall cement walls of a 10-acre riverbank compound belonging to a Mexican non-profit organization that calls itself “Senda De Vida,” or Path of Life. Another 1,500 migrants aspiring to get inside fill a tent shanty town overflowing downtown Reynosa’s central plaza, with more coming every day, hoping to get in.
The migrants are flocking here by the thousands, enticed by a cheaper, surer, more comfortable “queue-management” arrangement that is quietly getting many into the United States – legally through a port of entry. Most are single adults and family groups that Border Patrol already caught illegally entering and expelled under the American pandemic protection “Title 42” policy to protect against the spread of Covid-19, or who don’t want to pay this city’s cartel smugglers to try a first time.
It has many official friends, including all levels of Mexican government, the United Nations, American immigration lawyers, non-profit migrant advocacy groups, and President Joe Biden’s Department of Homeland Security.
Boiled down, Senda De Vida helps expelled or newly arrived migrants begin the process of seeking asylum in the United States from Reynosa (often with a new cell phone app and assisted by American immigration lawyers) and then to wait in line for a rich reward: a CPB invitation to enter the United States at the port of entry on the way to settling in an American city of their choosing and to work while waiting for their asylum claims to adjudicate.
The Biden administration has allowed hundreds of thousands to receive the same reward already after many of those migrants paid steep smuggling fees to criminal Mexican syndicates and crossed illegally, with many still ending up expelled under Title 42 after paying.
But the Reynosa system offers a chance to bypass that investment risk and expense for those willing to wait – sometimes for several months – in conditions made comfortable enough to create a strong enticement for more migrants to try it out.
Mexican government agencies, unspecified private donors, and immigration advocates support all migrant needs for as long as it takes for the following to happen: Each morning in the shelter, the Biden administration’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) across the river alerts shelter administrators that it will legally parole into the United States between five and 15 camp inhabitants (roughly 150 and 500 per month). These migrants apparently are given “notices to report” to the immigration office nearest to wherever they choose to settle in the United States, with legal authorization to be present and to work afforded to those pursuing asylum claims, whether to not they ever win them. To migrants, this is very good news, since the backlog for immigration court hearings has reached nearly four years.
Pastor Hector De Luna, who runs Senda De Vida, said cheers break out every morning when he gets on a bullhorn and calls out the day’s lucky winning (cell phone) number from a first-come, first-served list his organization keeps and matches to how many CBP said it they will take in.
“You need to see the person when they heard their number called. My God…,” he told the Center for Immigration Studies last week during an on-site visit to the compound and the downtown overflow camp. “By the next morning, the next day, they’re calling me… ‘I’m over here in Chicago! I’m going to Chicago. I’m flying to Chicago. I’m on the bus to Chicago.’ And always telling everybody because this can happen to anybody, wow, ‘I’m okay. Keep strong!’”
As more migrants downstream hear that message, they will no doubt head for Reynosa and, when they do, also report in turn that life in the Reynosa camps more than tolerable. For example:
- The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) hands out debit cards to U.S.-bound migrant families here every two weeks ($800 a month for a family of four, IOM officials told CIS, but even more for larger families or less for single adults). IOM officials handing out the debit cards said they have been providing the money for many months.
- In scenes that stood in contrast with Mexico’s promise to the American government that it would deter and staunch illegal immigration through its territory, Mexico’s federal government – National Guard and men and women of that nation’s “vaccination brigade” – were in the camps last week providing Covid-19 vaccines to hundreds of the migrants. The purpose of the vaccinations was to prepare them for U.S. border crossings under new rules that require foreign nationals to provide evidence that they are vaccinated. CIS observed the Mexican federal government vaccinate hundreds of the Reynosa migrants who waited in long, winding lines.
- A private group provides daily classroom instruction for migrant children.
- Pastor De Luna did not provide specifics when asked who funds his operation supporting thousands of migrants and their basic needs for months at a time but said donations came from “people like you. We live by donations… churches, people in the United States…” In addition to the UN distributing debit cards, CIS observed well-stocked kitchens as well as piles of donated clothing and Mexican municipal, state, and federal agencies and several non-profits in the compound. The American immigration lawyers who work on the asylum claims were volunteers from different organizations, De Luna said.
Altman be praised!