Uncertainty, sickness and fear washed over the Reynosa migrant encampment Friday after Mexican law enforcement descended upon them Thursday night and left them bereft of one of their basic needs — a way to cook food.
They took propane tanks that were used in four kitchen sites splayed across a makeshift labyrinth where nearly 5,000 migrants call home. A majority decided to camp there after being expelled from the U.S. under a public health code known as Title 42.
About 9 p.m. Thursday, migrants said many of them congregated near visitors who were delivering a late night meal. At the same time, however, a group of armed Mexican officers brandishing rifles began encircling the plaza.
A video provided to The Monitor showed the men in black uniforms walking around the campsite. A narrator behind the camera said they were taking the propane tanks.
Later that day, migrants recalled someone had taken photos of those kitchen sites two days prior. Someone told the migrants they would be donating fire extinguishers and asked to take photos. It was a detail they recalled after the tanks were quickly plucked from the stoves scattered among the patchwork of tents and tarps.
Fear, present long before the incident, intensified afterward.
The Monitor is not naming the migrants that shared their testimony because many have been victims of extortion, kidnapping and violence in the border city that they still inhabit.
Officers provided no explanation or showed warrants when they took the propane tanks away, according to some of the witnesses.
“It’s more about the kids,” a 38-year-old Guatemaltecan mother said. She is one of the women in charge of kitchen No. 3. Earlier this week, the propane tank in their part of the camp was running low. Everyone pitched in and bought a week’s worth of supply on Wednesday.
Mothers use the stove to heat up and sanitize the water they use to prepare the powdered milk formula for their children. Though, they also use it to cook food donated to them.
Earlier this week, someone alleged migrants were selling that food. The Guatemalan mother called it a lie. Other migrants nearby affirmed her claim.
Over at another kitchen site, the stove was stored away, out of sight.
“We don’t want them to take it, too,” another woman said.
A pile of tortillas was stacked nearby. A local food vendor who didn’t sell them the previous night gave them the plastic bag. They were cold, not fully cooked and stiff, but migrants said they ate them anyway. Some refried beans were still in a pot, half-cooked and spoiling.
Parents worried they wouldn’t be able to provide food for their children, some of whom are sick and undiagnosed.
A woman from El Salvador held her 10-year-old daughter in her lap. The child lay motionless, staring into the distance. It was her second day running a fever. Her mother used a T-shirt, wet with water and alcohol, to cool her during the day. But the child was having trouble eating and staying hydrated.
Even if they want to go back home, many can’t.
Migrants who have been there long enough, know where to wait for a daily bus that comes to take them back to Mexico’s southern border. But, the trips are out of reach for many. Multiple accounts suggest they are charged $2,500 pesos for each adult and $,1,500 per child, which amounts to about $122 and $74 respectively.
“They tell us if we go to the terminal we run a risk. If we get out of the plaza, we run a risk. Now that we’re here, we’re at risk too,” a frustrated mother from Honduras said.
The fear of losing their freedom, property and lives keeps them close to the plaza. At night, migrants take the role of security guards and rotate shifts watching the perimeter.
Friday night, migrants reported seeing a group of law enforcement officers again. They heard electricity and water will be taken next.
“Where do they want us to go?” one of the women wondered loudly.
Since they can’t leave, migrants said they’re hoping someone comes to their aid. But even as they prepared for the days ahead, the federal government on the U.S. side was invested in a last-ditch effort to keep from enforcing a practice that would send even more migrants back to Mexico.