Asylum seekers, currently residing in a migrant camp located just south of the United States-Mexico border, say they are plagued by crime and kidnappings and that the Biden administration has yet to address their safety concerns, even as Vice President Kamala Harris meets with Mexican officials to discuss immigration policy.
Speaking to NBC News, a volunteer who helps to handle child welfare and education issues in a massive border camp that has cropped up just across the border from McAllen, Texas, says that residents, who are waiting their turn in front of an American immigration court, live in fear of drug gangs and cartels that seem to operate with impunity.
The gang members and cartels“come into the plaza,” Felicia Rangel-Samponaro told the network. “They drag a person away. You hear the person screaming for help. Everyone stands around and watches, which is understandable. No one wants to die.”
Rangel-Samponaro told NBC that “two weeks ago at least six people were kidnapped from the plaza.”
“Compounding the human bottleneck at the border are smugglers feeding misinformation to many of the migrants, convincing them with false promises that President Joe Biden will further ease border restrictions,” NBC reported, noting that volunteers have stepped in to help sort out whether residents will even qualify to enter the United States so that those who do not qualify can leave the camps. “The dire conditions of migrants at the plaza has prompted Rangel-Samponaro and her colleague, Victor Cavazos, to take on the job of pre-interviewing migrants to see if they qualify for asylum. Crowds surround them when they arrive at the plaza, begging for the coveted referral to immigration attorneys.”
Vice President Harris tried to emphasize, at a press conference in Guatemala earlier this week, that migrants should not make the journey to the United States-Mexico border. At the same time, however, Harris said she would not visit the border to view the situation firsthand. That seems to bother border volunteers.
“I think most of it is the perception that Biden won and now everyone can come into the U.S.,” Rangel-Samponaro said. “Sadly, we’re the ones that have to tell them that’s not the case. No one should be living out there. This is wrong and no one should be okay with this.”
Inside detention facilities operating for child migrants within the United States, conditions are also concerning, according to an exclusive report from the BBC, which “uncovered allegations of cold temperatures, sickness, neglect, lice, and filth” in the “vast system of detention sites scattered across the country, holding more than 20,000 migrant children.”
That report, which surfaced late last month, revealed that Health and Human Services “emergency intake sites” housing thousands of child migrants shifted out of Customs and Border Protection Custody are struggling with overcrowding and a lack of resources and children are suffering.
“The children always complain about not having enough, not eating enough,” one staffer from an emergency intake site told the BBC on condition of anonymity. “He also said the convention hall was cold, the boys had one thin blanket each, and were made to stay by their camp beds almost all day.”
“Boys have been in there for 45 days straight with no sunlight, no recreation outside, no fresh air, no nothing,” the staffer said. ‘They are all depressed. I heard the other day that several were contemplating suicide because of the conditions here.”
“They are being treated like prisoners, like inmates,” he continued. “It’s haunting that this center has not been able to meet the minimal standards of caring for unaccompanied minors.”
HHS told the BBC, however, that “children are provided a safe and healthy environment with access to nutritious food, clean clothes, comfortable beds, education, recreational activities, and medical services.”
One child who spoke to the BBC said that the older children try to comfort younger children, even though they are not sure they will be reunited with parents inside the United States any time soon.
“They cried in front of me, and I just tried to comfort them and tell them that one day we would get out of there – although sometimes inside me I had doubt, because [the staff] would not ask me for my mom’s number, her address, and I felt bad too,” she said.
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