Asylum seekers survive in a tent city created by Title 42 restrictions
La Plaza de la Republica
About a half-mile from the Reynosa-Hidalgo International Bridge
Someone to Listen
“This trip didn’t work out the way I planned,” explained Hector.
His family’s house had been destroyed in la tormenta…not a hurricane, but a severe storm with wind and lightning. So Hector had left his wife and two children to come north. His idea was to make money to send back to them. And maybe, one day, he could make enough money to bring his family to the United States to join him.
Except he was stuck in Reynosa, unable to walk the few blocks over the bridge to the job he felt sure was waiting for him, and unwilling to admit defeat and go back to Honduras.
“I can work,” he told Dale, stretching his wiry arms to show he was capable. “I want to work. But there is no work in Honduras.”
The two men sat on a bench on the perimeter of the plaza, facing the street with their backs to the tent encampment behind them. Hector speaks a little English. Dale speaks rudimentary Spanish. It was enough. Hector continued to tell Dale his story.
“These are my children,” he said, showing Dale some photos on his phone. The boy was 6 and the girl 7, Hector said, and began talking about them the way fathers usually talk about their children. Their names, the things they were good at, the things they loved to do, and the things they didn’t.
Hector was still looking at the photo when he said softly, “My wife and children have no place to live. I think they are living on the streets now.”
It was a momentous declaration, Dale knew. He could feel the younger man’s worry and frustration, and shame. Dale is a pastor, adept at finding words of encouragement and comfort. He was still reaching for those words when Hector stood up and put his phone back in his pocket.
“Thank you for listening,” he said, with an earnest smile. And then he walked away.
Meanwhile, Molly, Dale’s wife, is helping the ladies set up for the mid-day meal. Various organizations donate food and supplies, but it is the camp residents—mostly the women—who organize and run the operation. There is an unspoken agreement among the many asylum seekers here that the camp belongs to them. So they should be in charge.
Hot dogs are on the menu today, and there are approximately 450 people to feed. The men are already stationed by the grills. The women show Molly how to wrap the hot dogs. They distribute the food and water, and monitor the three lines snaking through the camp.
Sometimes people—usually an adolescent boy—will try to get through the line twice. They never succeed. The women monitoring the lines seem to have photographic memories and aren’t shy about calling out the tricksters among them.
“It’s the same way with the donated toiletries and hygiene kits,” says Molly, “except the children help with distributing those items. They are very good at making sure everybody gets what they need.”
The mid-day meal and the distribution of supplies are two of the brighter moments in the daily tedium forced upon these asylum seekers. They know better than to step outside the plaza. There are frequent gunfights in Reynosa, and gang members are always waiting to prey on unsuspecting or uninformed migrants. So they stay in the plaza, only leaving it to cross the street to wash up—never alone, and never at night.
“It’s just so boring for them,” says Molly. “There isn’t much for them to do besides sit around and talk.”
These conversations all start the same. Where are you from? How long did it take? When did you arrive?
And when all those topics have been exhausted…when will we be allowed to cross the bridge?
Back Home in Dallas
Molly and Dale are both board members of Justice for Our Neighbors DFW. This is their eighth trip to the border; they were joined by other volunteers from First UMC of Denton, Texas, and Stonebridge UMC in McKinney, where Dale serves as the missional life pastor.
The purpose of this trip was to help asylum seekers at two points of their journey to the United States.
In Reynosa, they worked with Mayra Garza of Mateo 25:35 to provide supplies to migrant families waiting for permission to present their asylum claim to border patrol agents, but prohibited from doing so because of Title 42 restrictions related to the pandemic.
The Biden administration had (tentatively) planned to end Title 42 by July 31, although reports now indicate that this date may be in question.
Molly and Dale also worked with Team Brownsville, assisting newly released asylum seekers at Brownsville Bus station. These asylum seekers—having passed their credible fear interviews—are on their way to join family members in other areas of the country. They will then wait—perhaps years—for their chance to present their asylum case in court.
This may be Molly and Dale’s eighth trip to the border, but it won’t be their last. They are already making plans to take a week at Thanksgiving to volunteer, once again, in Brownsville and Reynosa.
“Folks who don’t speak Spanish think there is nothing they can do, but there is a lot of human connection that can cross the language divide, “ Dale advises would-be volunteers. “Don’t let your lack of Spanish be an impediment. You can still be useful.”
Please check out Dale’s A firsthand account of what’s really happening at the border in the Denton Record-Chronicle.
JFON DFW Executive Director Sid Earnhardt shared this report with us several months ago: At Brownsville Station and Beyond.