August 25, 2023

Support for Asylum Seekers at the Texas Border

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Team Brownsville Welcomes and Provides Humanitarian Assistance to Asylum Seekers

In April, I had the pleasure of volunteering with one of the nonprofit organizations providing much-needed humanitarian assistance to people seeking asylum (“asylum seekers”) along the United States and Mexico border - Team Brownsville. Founded in 2018, Team Brownsville serves immigrants, primarily those who are seeking asylum, who arrive in Brownsville, Texas or who are waiting in the Mexican cities of Matamoros or Reynosa for entry into the United States.

I’d forgotten to bring my passport, so I worked in the Welcome Center, at the corner of Adams and 14th Street, one block from the bus station. The experience was rich and rewarding. As one coordinator said, “Welcome Center volunteers are often the first friendly faces asylum seekers see after crossing the border.” I was happy to be one of those friendly faces. Other volunteers included students from local high schools and colleges, as well as out-of-town volunteers with Border Perspective.

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School children decorated bags to fill with treats for migrant children.

Each week, the Welcome Center provides assistance to hundreds of people who have been released from Texas immigration detention facilities, as well as to those who have just crossed the border.

Brownsville sits at the southern tip of Texas, just across the Rio Grande, or Rio Bravo from Matamoros, Mexico. While the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) were in place, the Matamoros camp had a population of more than 3,000 people, before emptying out when MPP was lifted. With Title 42, a public health measure, providing a political excuse to prevent immigrants from crossing the border to enter the U.S., a makeshift camp was once again erected, as families were again forced to stay in Matamoros while seeking admission to the United States.

The average stay at the Matamoros camp is currently anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. People are granted permission to cross the international bridge through the CBP One mobile app, which, despite numerous glitches since it was introduced in January, does allow some people to get appointments and come across to begin their asylum process.

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A hot slice of pizza is added to each of these plates when the next busload arrives.

The first day I volunteered with Team Brownsville was April 7th. I was given latex gloves to wear and assigned to prepare paper plates with a banana and a slice of hot pizza to hand to people as they arrived. Most weekdays, Good Neighbor Settlement House provides home-cooked meals, but since this day was a holiday, we served pizza.

Team Brownsville volunteers provided each person a water bottle and a bag to fill with items such as snacks, toiletries, hair bands, wipes, and large envelopes to hold important documents. Also on hand were sanitary products, over the counter medications, clothes, shoes, information about the asylum process, transportation, and shelters, and know your rights literature. Shoestrings and belts were also available, since detention officers had taken those items from detainees. The volunteers also verbally welcomed everyone who entered.

On Saturday, Pastor Navarro and members of the Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville congregation served hot meals, hearty singing, and good cheer.

A man from China, just released from detention, came in looking for his wife, who was apparently still in detention. He couldn’t find her name on the list of asylum seekers who had received services that day, and he reluctantly left.

Easter Sunday, we handed out Easter candy in bags decorated by school children. Kids played with toys while their parents rested for a few minutes and made phone calls to loved ones.

The man from China came by again looking for his wife.

During the three days that I volunteered with Team Brownsville - Good Friday through Easter Sunday - we served many busloads of migrants, from China, Vietnam, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, Venezuela, Haiti, and at least one person, I believe, from Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many people had just been released from area immigration detention centers, most operated by for-profit companies, such as GEO Group and CoreCivic. Others arrived from the Matamoros camp. Every person, no matter the language, expressed gratitude in some way.

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Bulletin board with information about rights, the asylum process, and more.

Stories I will never forget:

One family of 4, from Venezuela, was short $30 to buy the 4 tickets costing $230 to San Antonio. A volunteer paid, and the man started to cry, explaining that the bus fare would have taken all the money he had left, and he was worried about how to take care of his children.

The man from China, looking for his wife.

The story other volunteers told of the family of five who lived in the previous Matamoros camp for about two years. The adults ran a tienda (store) that Team Brownsville helped to keep stocked. The family now lives in California, but is struggling with the high housing costs. When the family recently flew back to Texas, their loved ones who were driving to the airport to meet them were picked up by ICE.

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Here You Are Safe sign greeting newcomers as they enter.

A note about asylum seekers: Seeking asylum is a human right, and asylum seekers must meet the same criteria as refugees to be granted asylee status. The only real difference between a person seeking asylum and a person seeking refugee status under U.S. law is where the person is when they apply. People seeking asylum can only do so at or within the U.S. borders, whereas people outside the U.S. must apply for refugee status.

To be granted asylee or refugee status, a person must meet the following criteria: 1) They are unable or unwilling to return to their home country because they have been persecuted there in the past or have a well-founded fear that they will be persecuted if they go back. 2) The reason they have been (or will be) persecuted is connected to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or their political opinion.

To learn more about the situation at the border read this BorderReport article:

BORDER REPORT

For more information about what you can do to lend support to Asylum seekers and Team Brownsville, visit their website:

Team Brownsville
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