MATAMOROS — A wagon parading an effigy of President Donald Trump trudged along the Matamoros embankment Sunday afternoon when hundreds of migrants celebrated the news of Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election.
Among the group of migrants holding flags from Guatemala and Mexico, the grim reaper — a man dressed in a hooded, black robe and holding a toy scythe — walked along the wheeled cart, a cardboard sign slung across his shoulder read, “Hasta la vista, Donald Trump.”
Clothing left behind by migrants who abandoned their asylum claims under the prolonged Trump administration policies were used to dress the president’s crafted doppelganger.
A pair of white, worn-down jeans and a button-up shirt were stuffed with tufts of grass growing along the riverbank. A two-dimensional red tie made in the same fashion as a piñata was affixed to the collar where the head of President Trump, a print-out mounted to cardboard, sprung up.
Migrant families under the Migrant Protection Protocols — a policy which sends migrants back to Mexico while they await their U.S. immigration court hearings — were in a festive mood since a presidential winner was declared Saturday.
President-elect Biden vowed to “end these policies, starting with Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols,” according to his immigration platform.
Saturday night was relatively quiet near the Matamoros-Brownsville border. Two women living in the makeshift camp, Liseth and Katherine, could be seen through an uncovered patch along the fence delineating the encampment’s perimeter near the international bridge’s traffic.
Blankets and tarps impede the view for passers-by. They were hung as anti-immigrant sentiment began growing in Matamoros, the women said.
One night, Liseth, a 43 year-old El Salvadoran mother of two, said a man stood outside in the plaza and began berating them. He ended his tirade saying he would be tossing bottles of gasoline and lighting them up. Liseth’s daughters, 11 and 8 years old, had trouble sleeping that night.
As the night fell Saturday over Matamoros, a crowd of hundreds of men, women and children carried on with some sense of renewed hope.
“Alivio,” or relief, is how the women characterized their reaction upon learning that the president lost his reelection bid.
“Look at how we’re living,” Liseth said holding onto the fence’s metal pickets.
“Do you know where I had seen this?” she asked. “When I saw the German movies about the concentration camps.”
The gates are used to restrict the public’s access to the campgrounds; migrants are allowed to go outside. Though, safety is a concern.
Katherine, a 24-year old Nicaraguan mother of an 11-year-old girl, recalled the day a migrant girl ran up to her yelling, “they’re going to take me, they’re going to take me.” That was when a shooting broke out near the camp. No one was injured, but it served to highlight the risk they now face in the border community.
Inside, the women described other risks, too. Rats and snakes fattened on the rodents are a common find. Their families were not hurt by them, but other dangers prowl on the women and girls.
Recently, an incident propelled Liseth to send her two daughters across the border.
They fled their Central American home which Liseth described as a colander after the last round of gun battles between the local gangs and armed forces. She noticed her neighborhood becoming smaller after each altercation, but she didn’t leave until the neighborhood’s founder was left with a bullet in his head near her home.
Liseth and her daughters made their way up north through Monterrey, where they were kidnapped. She said she escaped by jumping out of a second-story floor. She arrived at the border hoping to find a way into the U.S., but instead she was placed under MPP and sent to Tamaulipas.
That was over a year ago.
Recently, something happened at the camp’s restrooms. It left her feeling traumatized. She didn’t share details of the incident, but the thought of it made her throat tighten and her eyes water.
The girls are now in Boston with relatives who will be helping connect them with counselors to talk through their trauma.
“I feel happy with the triumph of Mr. Biden, but I won’t stop feeling afraid until I’m out of this place,” Liseth said.
As the young evening set on the Rio Grande on Sunday, a small crowd of migrants set fire to the effigy which now sat on a chair with the river sprawled in the background.
“Es lo que siente la gente ,” a migrant man said from the crowd. “It’s what the people feel.”
The withered grass inside the migrant clothes burned, at first, a fiery-red, but after a few minutes it would be reduced to a smoldering heap. When the smoke cleared, the ground across the river, draped in the golden hour, was once again visible.