Last Saturday, a man from El Salvador stood with his 4-year-old son on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Just across the way, a scant one hundred yards, was Brownsville, Texas, and the promise of safety. He was considering swimming the river with his child, anxious to escape the misery and the dangers of Matamoros, something that he and his little boy had endured for more than a year. The family had been placed into the misery of Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, was trapped in the violence of northern Mexico, and was at the point of hopelessness.
I had spent some time with this father, and I knew that he missed his wife and his daughter, that he was unnerved by the massacre of nineteen migrants just weeks before by Mexican police officers, and that he was desperate.
But he also knew that the river posed an immediate danger. Like this father, everyone who had been placed in MPP would remember the day that another young father and his two-year daughter, frantically seeking safety, had drowned trying to swim across the river.
However, on that warm afternoon last week, this father took his boy by the hand and at last turned away from the immediate dangers of the river to face, once again, the dangers of living as a migrant in northern Mexico.
Thank goodness he had held back. Just a few days later the Biden administration announced that the most vulnerable people in the MPP would soon begin to be admitted into the United States—those waiting in Tijuana, those waiting in Ciudad Juarez, and those waiting in Matamoros.
The weirdly named “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) was implemented in January of 2019. In simplest terms, people seeking asylum and crossing into the U.S. from Mexico would be returned to Mexico, where they would end up waiting for more than a year for an opportunity to have their cases heard by an American official. The Migrant Protection Protocol offered no protection to any migrant as these people are forced to live in northern Mexico, in places where the rules and protections of law has effectively ended.
Ending MPP was one of President Biden’s campaign promises. Dr. Jill Biden had personally visited the misery of a camp in Matamoros set up for migrants in MPP. Soon after the inauguration, hundreds of advocates from across the nation began to pressure the administration to make good on this promise.
With the announcement of the rollback of MPP, hospitality teams all along the border have started their own planning. Locally, groups have initiated fundraising and the organization of their volunteers (in the time of COVID). They anticipate welcoming those released from MPP at local bus stations, and sending them on their way with a basic orientation (“when you get to Houston, you will change buses—and it will be a four hour wait. But you are safe, and you are on your way!”), a backpack of travel supplies, and a hearty “welcome!” (If you would like to support these efforts, please visit the Angry Tias website. You can directly donate by going here).
I am concerned about other people who seek asylum and who are not in the MPP (non-Spanish speakers are not in this program). A friend tells me that there are many Haitians and Africans stranded in Reynosa, a particularly violent city just south of McAllen. I worry that many of them, excluded from this offer of protection, will be driven to desperate, dangerous and unnecessary attempts to seek refuge.
This uneasiness is tempered by the hope that this new administration, and we as a nation and a people will once again be a place where those in need can seek freedom, safety, and protection from persecution. President Biden will have to be reminded, over and again, of this promise. There are millions of us who believe in that vision. Let the healing and the welcome begin with each of us in every corner of this nation.
I am relieved that the father and his four year old did not choose to swim the river. I do hope that their journey to their loved ones is without incident. I carry that hope proudly.