McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Mexican officials in the border city of Reynosa want thousands of asylum seekers to relocate to a baseball field that is being converted into a new migrant shelter, but planners tell Border Report the facility is nowhere near ready.
About 2,000 to 3,000 migrants currently live at the downtown plaza in the crime-ridden city of Reynosa, in the state of Tamaulipas, just south of the border from McAllen, Texas. Hundreds of families have camped at the plaza for a year and Mexican officials have made clear that they want them to leave.
But the renovation of a nearby baseball field into a makeshift migrant shelter is taking far longer than expected, and Mexican officials have not completed some of the tasks they offered, Border Report has learned.
This includes putting in water lines to the baseball field, and building a road that will connect the area, said Erin Hughes, co-founder of Solidarity Engineering, a U.S.-based nonprofit firm that is providing the planning, design, project management and many of the materials for the new camp’s renovation.
“We’re very very much under construction so the Mexican authorities are pushing very much. There’s a lot of pressure to move people as quickly as possible into the baseball field but it’s not ready yet,” Hughes said Wednesday via phone.
“Mexican authorities really want people to move. They don’t want anyone at the plaza eventually. I’m under the impression that their whole goal is to move everyone from the plaza,” Hughes said.
Several nonprofits have been working for the past year to assist migrants in Reynosa, a city where drug cartels often hold open-air shootouts and the U.S. State Department has warned Americans not to travel. And kidnappings often occur among migrants living on the plaza, migrant aid workers tell Border Report.
Solidarity Engineering is in charge of drainage canals, stormwater management as well as design of the bathrooms, showers and septic tank system, Hughes said.
They recently acquired a backhoe and started digging a large trench through the baseball field. This will be made into a drainage canal that slopes away from the facility “so that hopefully peoples’ tents won’t be getting flooded out during big rainstorms,” Hughes said. Storage tanks are also being installed to collect some of that stormwater.
Ideally, Hughes said, building concrete elevated slabs to get the tents off the ground would be a better choice, but they don’t have the time or the resources to build this.
Every few weeks she says Mexican authorities tell the nonprofits that are assisting the asylum seekers that they will forcibly remove everyone from the plaza, if necessary if they don’t leave by a certain date. Those dates come and go, however, and often nothing has changed.
But on Feb. 28, Border Report received several reports and photos and videos from frantic asylum-seekers who said Mexican police took down 100 tents at the plaza and they were scared the entire camp would be leveled.
Mirabel Sedeño said her husband, Frank Sedeño, who is a missionary with her in Reynosa, was at the camp when police began forcibly taking down the tents.
“They told us we have to leave,” one woman holding a baby said in Spanish in a video Frank sent. “But we don’t know where we will go.”
Another woman said she is sick and her tent was leveled.
Others said they were just told to go but did not understand why.
Hughes said Mexican officials explained to them after that event that they wanted the sidewalks cleared for safety, and most migrants moved their tents to the interior of the camp.
But the camp is extremely crowded and ground space is limited and she says there is now nowhere for folks to go.
“That was a really awful experience for everyone. You feel so hopeless when all your friends are testing you in the middle of the night that they’re being forcibly relocated or told they have to move their tents,” she said.
Now she hopes that they can complete the renovations quickly before more tents are taken down or migrants forced to leave the plaza.
“They’ve been putting the pressure on for months since before Christmas and they kind of keep on giving us deadlines,” Hughes said.
Hughes said that families and women will be prioritized to be allowed into the baseball field facility when completed, no single adult males, at least at first.
She said she also hopes they can build a playground and school for the children who for months have lived on the streets with so little.