The Mexican agency responsible for family welfare has visited migrant tent camps in Matamoros, where an official threatened to take children away from families who are refusing to relocate to shelters across town. The Brownsville Herald received photos, video, and a document related to the incident.
Mexico’s Sistema Nacional DIF, or the National System for Integral Family Development, arrived at the camps last week and distributed at least one notice to a woman with children living near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros.
According to aid workers with Team Brownsville, families are wary to vacate the camp as many don’t have access to the internet, computers, or cell phones and are unable to communicate with attorneys or government officials if they’re away from the checkpoint.
As volunteers explained, officials call out names from the entrance of the bridge on the day of asylum hearings. Those living in the camps must be ready to walk across the bridge at a moment’s notice.
A young man from Honduras told The Brownsville Herald that he remains near the bridge in fear of missing immigration proceedings for which he has waited three months at the camp nearest to the checkpoint.
Immigration proceedings are held at a tent court set up in Brownsville at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Port of Entry, where judges appear over closed-circuit television. The press has been barred entrance to the tent court system since it was set up in September by the Trump administration.
Additionally, an organizer with Team Brownsville said that a climate of mistrust persists following an incident where families who refused to move to shelters allegedly had their travel permits, granted to migrants moving through Mexico, torn up by government officials.
In a video provided by an aid worker with Angry Tias and Abuelas of the RGV, a Mexican official holding a clipboard threatens surrounding residents of the camp, saying, “What is important to me is the law. You are the ones who came to us.”
A man behind the camera then responds, saying, “We didn’t come to you, we’ve been here for three months and you know very well what’s been going on.”
The DIF official answers, “How would you like us to take your kids away from you?”
In a photo provided by a resident of the camp, an SUV with the DIF logo on its door can be seen parked in front of a stairway leading to a camp set up in a wooded area along the Rio Grande, where families cook, bathe, and have access to four tanks filled with water paid for by Team Brownsville.
A notice from DIF given to a woman living in the camp is dated Nov. 1 and summoned her to the Border Attention Center for Children (CAMEF) in Matamoros at 9 a.m. on Nov. 4. The document states that the purpose of the appointment is to carry out “family diligence.”
An official at the Consulate General of Mexico in Brownsville confirmed that the document appeared to be legitimate.
DIF was not immediately available for comment.