Borderlands Reporting

Weekly Witness: Asylum Seekers Forced into ‘Boxcars in the Sky’

KRB Feb 6
Image: Karla Rader Barber

Since November 2019, under a new program called Asylum Cooperative Agreement, the U.S. government has shipped 536 asylum-seekers to Honduras and El Salvador in what witnesses call “boxcars in the sky.”

Marisol Cortez

In our Weekly Witness series, we share some of the most significant messages posted by volunteers to the public Facebook group Witness at the Border (formerly Witness: Tornillo. Target: MPP). These volunteers from around the country have staked themselves outside the tent cities and detention facilities of the Trump Administration’s child internment policies to provide firsthand, on-the-ground witness accounts of conditions experienced by asylum seekers in Matamoros, México, on account of the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” aka Remain in Mexico.

Under MPP, asylum-seekers are forced to wait on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico international border during their immigration review hearings, rather than being released into communities within the U.S. In Matamoros, Tamaulipas—currently under State Department travel advisory due to cartel violence—migrants have crowded into a tent city of 2,500 just beyond the Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge, across the river from Trump’s “tent courts.”

As these witnesses document in detail below, this policy of deliberate concentration and secrecy has effectively gutted the asylum process, setting up in its place a rigged, expedited hearing system that effectively denies migrants legal representation and rubber-stamps denial of asylum. Since January 2019, over 57,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico, with only 11 granted asylum.

In what seems to be a newer trend, witnesses have also been observing for weeks the mass deportation of asylum-seekers to Guatemala and El Salvador. These policies are the result of the Asylum Cooperative Agreement, under a program called Prompt Asylum Claim Review. For more on the “complicated interplay and application of protection and border processing policies” affecting asylum-seekers at the border under Trump, see this fact sheet published by the American Immigration Council.

For an introduction to this series, see “Witnesses Begin Documenting ‘Remain in Mexico.’”


Charlene Frank, February 1

Fortunately for us, there is always some good along with the awful. The photography classes and the love from the families in the prison camp for asylum seekers was our ‘good’. Our very good. Also, meeting people that I had only known virtually. … The family that Barbara and I were so close to, two parents and six children, were able to leave the camp and go to live with a relative in a nearby state. They were from the poorest of Mexican states where the slaughter of Indigneous people is a constant. Many of the Mexican people in this camp are from such a state, and they are the families being allowed to leave. Sadly, the other families are starting to realize that it is only the Mexican families leaving and that is another notch in the desperation belt.

Then came the bad.

The courts are not courts. Like our chant says “If the answer is always “NO” it’s not a court.” And shamefully, the answer is always “no.” There is no justice, there is no appeal, there is no listening, there is only “no.” Just freakin’ “no.” These are not courts, these are insults to the American people who believe that there is justice in our country. Sitting in the tents that they call courts is incredibly difficult. You just see judges extending dates that will never see a “yes.” It is shameful.

Then there are the early morning buses to the planes. Josh and Karla, and maybe Tom (I think Tom) told us about these. This is a true horror and hurts just to write it.

People are herded out of the camps before witnesses arrive (although now they are getting there earlier) and put into buses with a cage between them and the driver so that nobody tries to grab the driver and escape. They are shackled, hand and foot, then herded onto an airplane with no idea where they are going. They go to Guatelmala or Honduras. They go there not because they are from Guatemala or Honduras, because they aren’t. They go there because Dictator Trump and his SS cronies don’t view these people as human and they just dump them like garbage into a place that is violent and they have nobody. NOBODY. This just shakes me to the core of my being. They treat them like garbage. Not being hyperbolic here, they are truly treated like garbage. They are not being sent to a place that will help them, they are being sent to a place that will likely destroy them. Day after day, they sweep the prison camp for asylum-seekers and send them away like New York City sends its garbage. NYC sends its garbage on a barge to be destroyed. Dictato Trump sends what he considers to be garbage on a plane to be destroyed.

This has to stop. Why isn’t my country standing up and saying that they won’t accept this and it has to stop? Is everyone so damn selfish that they can’t see it? I know people go to church. I see people saying stuff about God on Facebook. I hear people say “have a blessed day,” yet they don’t do anything about this. Remember the whole “Do onto others” thing? How can people who do this stuff allow this to happen? Why do they bother to go to church when they don’t give a damn about what they are pretending to pray for? What the fuck, people. We are sending people to their deaths. Get off your asses and scream NO! How can you not be as angry as me if you are from this country?

Joshua Rubin, February 2

From the Brownsville side of the Gateway Bridge, you don’t see Matamoros at all. The tent courts even block the sight of the muddy river that cuts the borderline in the earth. So, no Matamoros. But all day, coming out of the doors of the office where passports and papers are checked, a stream of people trickle out, crossing for all sorts of purposes, shopping, visiting, school. They step down a few concrete steps to the street, or they roll packages and bags down a ramp.

And at least once each day, an ambulance pulls up to those steps to rescue someone who has succumbed on the long wait forced on those that don’t have the neat blue passport that I have, who are on the long line that may take hours, that often extends down the other side, reaching back to the streets of Matamoros.

And the paramedics get out and open the back, and carry out a stretcher, roll it up the ramp, into the doors, and in a while roll out the stretcher, now with a body on it. Often someone old. Once a baby came out, in the arms of one of the paramedics.

If you never cross that bridge, those people who get through and emerge from those doors are all you will know of the country on the other side. And on the other side, all the refugees are now behind fencing and concertina wire, mere glimpses of them now, camped along the river for a quarter mile or so, tents on the banks of the river.

From a distance, you might smell mesquite burning in the ovens they have built.

Joshua Rubin, Feb 2
Image: Joshua Rubin

Joshua Rubin, February 3

Just got back. We went to the airport at Brownsville in the dark, to find four bus loads of what appeared to be very young men and women, many looking like teens, frisked in their five-point restraints, on their way to the SwiftAir plane, destined this morning for Guatemala.

My god, they looked so young! The boys came first, many more of them than the girls, who came last, female friskers taking the place of the men to do the final pat downs before the awkward climb in shackles up the steps into the door of the deportation jet. It was sickening to watch.

Still dark, they finished loading, but as the buses pulled away, one went straight to the exit, and we got in the car and followed, thinking they miscounted, and might be returning to wherever they came from. We followed, heading toward the Gulf of Mexico, tailing the bus, taking every turn it made.

Until the final turn as the sun rose, and we stopped following. Port Isabel Detention Center, Department of Homeland Security.

Not a place for children.

Joshua Rubin, Feb 3
Image: Joshua Rubin

Debbie Nathan, February 4

Yesterday in federal magistrate Judge Morgan’s court in downtown Brownsville, on 6th Street by Linear Park, home of the weekend farmer’s and crafts market—eight blocks from the Matamoros refugee encampment—a Honduran man named Jose Israel Herrera-Lambert, along with 19 other men and women, were marched in, shackled in chains, and tried en masse. The charge against them: misdemeanor first-time illegal entry (the infamous “1325” statute).

These mass trials have been going on for about 15 years on the border. The criminalization of first-time border crossers was used in 2018 as the rationale for taking thousands of children from their parents. (“They’re criminals, they’re in jail. They can’t care for their children if they’re in jail.”)

The mass trial of these 20 people took about a half hour. They had “representation” from a federal public defender who gave each defendant about 4 minutes of “representation.” They were all encouraged to plead guilty.

They were sentenced to time served. Most will be deported, including on ICE airplanes.

Margaret Murphy, February 4

Somewhere today, Stephen Miller is writing Trump’s State of the Reich, I mean Union, speech. Yesterday the Fuhrer suggested we have a state run television station in the U.S. Trump, Miller, and Cuccinelli added six more countries to the Muslim ban. As the Senate lines up to solidify the coverup and announce acquittal, the question arises: What will Trump do unrestrained? News reports already show him planning to retailiate against former National Security Advisor John Bolton, Senator Romney, Chairman Schiff and Chairman Nadler. Trump, Miller, and Cuccinelli are flying asylum seekers deep into the Guatemalan jungle. Like Senator Joni Ernst explained, The GOP is waiting to see the fruitfulness of smearing Trump’s political rival, Biden, while Trump was on trial in the Iowa Caucus. Ambassador Taylor has been pushed out and Ambassador Yovanovitch retired. Senator Romney, one of two GOP Senators to call for witnesses, has been barred from attending a GOP conference. Masked and armed men were allowed to avoid metal detectors and brandished assault weapons in the Kentucky state house.

Remember: there can be no acquittal without a trial, and no trial without documents and witnesses.

Remember, Trump has been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and impeached forever.

Remember the children and adults that this administration’s white supremacist agenda are attacking, that genocide is a process, that we are deep in that process.

Remember the truth will continue to come out, it always does.

Remember, our rights are inalienable, they aren’t given to us by a fearless leader. We have power and agency, we have each other. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.”

Charlene Frank, February 4

While having edamame and a margarita (and a brownie) with my wonderful, amazing, brilliant, beautiful friend in El Hueso de Fraile in Brownsville, Texas, I was introduced to a man who I was told was a teacher for immigrant students. I asked him where he taught, and he told me it was just down the street in a shelter. I replied, “Southwest Key?”

He said, proudly, “Yes.”

My response was: “That’s a prison, not a shelter.” He wasn’t happy. He repeated that it is a shelter for young people with a whole school system. I said, “Much like the Southwest Key place that used to be a Walmart?” He said, “Yes.”

I repeated: It is a prison. He was less happy.

I asked him if the children could leave. He answered, “Of course, whenever they want.”

I said, “So they can go shopping here on Elizabeth Street?

He answered, “No.”

I said “So, they can only leave to go back to the country from which they are seeking asylum.”


So, it’s a prison.

No, it’s a shelter.

I said that in NYC, I can go into shelters to volunteer if I want. Can I go there tomorrow and will I be allowed in?

He said, “No. It is federal property, unlike shelters in New York.”

So, I can’t get in, they can’t get out, That’s not a shelter, it’s a prison.

It went on for just a little while. I told him that I am sure he believes what he says and that he is a good teacher. He said that my opinion doesn’t matter. And in fact, it doesn’t.

But it is a prison.

Marie Luna, February 4

I know, I know
If you could go back you
would walk with Jesus
You would march with King
Maybe assassinate Hitler
At least hide Jews in your basement
It would all be clear to you
But people then, just like you
were baffled, had bills
to pay and children they didn’t
understand and they too
were so desperate for normalcy
they made anything normal
Even turning everything inside out
Even killing, and killing, and it’s easy
for turning the other cheek
to be looking the other way, for walking
to be talking, and they hid
in their houses
and watched it on television, when they had television,
and wrung their hands
or didn’t, and your hands
are just like theirs. Lined, permeable,
small, and you
would follow Caesar, and quote McCarthy, and Hoover, and you would want
to make Germany great again
Because you are afraid, and your
parents are sick, and your
job pays shit and where’s your
dignity? Just a little dignity and those kids sitting down in the highway,
and chaining themselves to
buildings, what’s their fucking problem? And that kid
That’s King. And this is Selma. And Berlin. And Jerusalem.

And now
is when they need you to be brave.


is when we need you to go back
and forget everything you know
and give up the things you’re chained to
and make it look so easy in your
grandkids’ history books (they should still have them, kinehora*)


is when it will all be clear to them.

—Danny Bryck

* Kinehora is a Yiddish word that comes from the longer phase keyn ’eyn-hora, which mean “no evil eye” or “knock on wood.” It’s like a curse in reverse. If I say, with the best intention, “Looks like the snow and cold are over!” you might respond with, “Kinehora!” After all, to utter such a thing might just ensure it will never happen.

Charlene Frank, February 5

Witnessing is “the subversive act of seeing.” You see what our government and the accompanying corporations don’t want anyone to see and you let the world know.
They didn’t want children in prison camps to be seen so they put these prison camps in places that were so difficult to find that even with directions you’d get lost trying to get there. But the first person showed up to witness this and it grew. Because of the witnesses two of the prison camps closed: Tornillo and Homestead.

Now we witness at Matamoros, and at the airport. Why are there witnesses at the tiny Brownsville airport? Because people, mostly people who look like teenagers in shackles, are put onto planes, deported and dumped like garbage in a third country.

The Witness group had heard that deportation flights were leaving Brownsville for quite some time, although the information wasn’t open to the public. Debbie Nathan who organized a group in El Paso to monitor deportation flights encouraged the #WitnessAtTheBorder group to go to the Brownscille airport and Witness there.

On 1/22 the ACLU tipped off the Witness group that a SwiftAir flight was being loaded with deportees. Witnesses showed up. They weren’t welcomed but it was not federal land and they couldn’t force the witnesses to leave. Witnesses told people what they saw, and wrote about it. Now nobody could say that they didn’t know, that nobody told them it was happening. Witnesses are from all over the country, including Alaska! We even have a witness from Rome, Italy! People are aware. Witnessing is POWERFUL.

Every day after this at least one or two witnesses were at the airport, and everyday the same thing happened. Now it looks like they may be trying to hide the deportation planes so they can’t be witnessed. But they are not invisible. A 6:45 a.m. flight SWQ3585 left Brownsville Airport for Guatemala, and if you are at the airport, it can’t be missed. Brownsville is a tiny airport, a really tiny airport.

Some days witnessing can be boring, not usually, but it can be. However you are there, you are wearing your “FREE THEM” button so they know who you are and they know you are committing “the subversive act of seeing.” It is POWERFUL.

Julia Sinden Whiteker, February 5

Immigration Court at Brownsville Texas, Feb 3, 2020<

“Jeff,” said a clean-cut man with greying hair and a down vest, extending his hand for a shake.

“Hi, I’m Julia,” I said.

We were sharing a long, black plastic bench in a tent room that whooshed loudly with an air ventilation system. Jeff had arrived with a group of about 15 people and joined my new friend Kathy and me in a sterile tent waiting room reminiscent of a global-pandemic movie.

To get here, we had arrived at the secured door at 7:30 a.m., surrendered our IDs to a friendly, young Homeland Security agent named Estefan, and passed our stuff and selves through x-ray and metal detectors. No phones or cameras (friends had already shared this with Kathy so we were prepared.) Also, no open-toed shoes for no reason I could fathom. Estafan explained to the first arrivers, Kathy and me, that we might wait a while in the sterile, white tent room. Some of the judges were “grouchy” and would not allow observers, he told us. They would need to check and see which judges would permit observers. Not having our phones, neither of us had a way of marking the passage of time.

“You have a watch,” I exclaimed to Jeff, who was scrolling through apps on his Apple watch, “I’m surprised they let that through.”

“Yeah,” he looked around, “They didn’t see it. I wonder if there’s a camera,” he added, head swiveling. “Oh yeah, there it is.”

“They’re probably recording everything we say,” said Kathy.

“Like a dystopian novel,” I added into the whooshing.

After a while, Estafan entered the room to make a stern speech. We would be taken to observe court soon. We would not be allowed to talk to asylum seekers. If we disrupted the proceedings, we would be removed. We should use the restroom if we needed to. He gestured to the two port-a-potties standing at the end of the white whooshing, white room. Once in court, we could raise our hands for water or pencil and paper or to leave. If we left we would not be able to return. Three women stood to use the bathrooms.

Jeff told me he is the senior pastor of a non-denominational church in Chicago. He said he and two other faith leaders, a Rabbi and an Imam, were in Brownsville with a group of parishioners to work with Team Brownsville and protest with Witness at the Border. It turned out we had both been in Brownsville for the first time in the Fall of 2019.

Kathy said this was her fifth trip here to volunteer with the asylum-seekers in the makeshift refugee camp that had formed in 2018 with about thirty people on the plaza at the Mexico end of the International Gateway Bridge. As of now, the camp holds over 2,500 people, mostly young families. She had been a volunteer at a shelter that took in newly admitted asylum-seekers in McCallum, Tx, but when the MPP (stay in Mexico Policy) dried up the flow of people to the shelter, she had started coming to Brownsville to help with translation, serving food and whatever else was needed.

Kathy and I had met the day before through another friend, Barbara, and the three of us had walked through the camp together. It has become a much more permanent place than when I last visited, and it has been moved off of the bridge plaza, past the levee, and onto the narrow strip of land on the bank of the Rio Grande. Everyone lives in tents or tarps fashioned into tent-like shelters, and there are rows and rows of these. Some people have cots, but many families sleep on yoga mats or directly on the floor. The ground is dirt that I’m told turns to miserably sticky mud in the rain.

There is an impressive medical station now, staffed by volunteer nurses and doctors, with a generator humming for power. A large dining tent has been erected, complete with long tables and chairs. However, it had been ripped up by a wind storm the first night of my visit and was out of commission, so people were sitting on steps or the ground to eat dinner the nights I helped serve dinner.

A box with power outlets next to some levee steps was covered with charging phones and people sit on the steps hanging out talking. Two men were being barbered nearby.

Another day I met a Honduran man who was maintaining the new water filtration system that cleans river water for use in the camp. He told us his wife and kids were living in the U.S. under asylum, but he was stuck in the camp. A Salvadoran woman runs one of the Free Store tents in the camp that distributes donated goods like clothes, shoes, and toys, and we stopped by a little tent with a mesquite fire where a woman was making pupusas for sale later in the day.<

As Jeff, Kathy and I shared what we knew about the camp, we watched through a small plexiglass window in the tent wall, next to the porta-potties, as about five people in suits walked by.

“Lawyers,” said Kathy.

Estefan came back to announce it was time to go. He counted seven people down my bench and we stood and filed into the hallway. On our way to the courtroom, we walked past six or seven little rooms with a table and barred windows. They were empty and had no signs. Then a court officer, a young woman with long dark hair, ushered us up some steps and into Courtroom C.

Unlike the whooshing waiting room, the courtroom was more solid. It seemed to be a modular building, very long, maybe 25 feet wide and 75 feet long with walls of hard plastic or plastic-coated metal with florescent panel lights in the ceiling. In front of the room, a large screen showed two women remotely. Three rows of asylum seekers sat in front of the screen, and a woman off to the side at a computer.

Our court officer, I didn’t catch her name, seated us at the back of the room in two rows. She brought us paper and pens for notes and bottles of water.

There was a pillar in the middle of the room, so I had a blind spot in my view, but this was my best count of asylum-seekers in the room:

six women
two babies
four men
two children (one boy about 10 years old and one girl of four or five asleep on her mother’s lap)

All of the adults looked young, all under thirty is my guess. A couple of the asylum-seekers turned to look curiously at our group, all of us white, non-Hispanic and over forty.

The court officer told the Judge that four of the children belonging to these families were in childcare within the facility. I looked at Kathy with wide eyes. After the family separations, I was thinking, it must be very difficult to trust Homeland Security with your kids.

Almost immediately, there was a little drama. The baby of a young woman in the back row of the asylum-seekers was making noise—not crying, just making those loud, crowing baby noises. The court officer called the young woman Jessica and explained to the judge that the baby was very active.

“She’s one year old,” the Court Officer told the Judge on the screen: Judge Danielle, Gonzales in Harlingen, Texas, we learned a bit later.

“Maybe we could recess for ten minutes and she could take the baby out and let her run off some energy?” Judge Gonzales suggested, pushing her long black hair back from her face.

The Court Officer talked inaudibly with Jessica and reported back.

“She says she’s just an active baby.”

“Please have the mother come up here,” instructed Judge Gonzales.

At the Court Officer’s instructions in quiet Spanish, Jesica stood up with her baby and faced the back of the room for a moment.

“She looks really young,” Kathy whispered and I nodded. Jessica looked to me like she could be sixteen.

Jessica picked up her baby and walked towards the screen and sat on a chair facing the judge.

“Do you think you will be able to concentrate today with the baby here? We are going to go over some very important things,” said Judge Gonzales. The older woman in the foreground on the screen translated the question to Jessica in Spanish.

“Si,” said Jessica.

“If you put your baby in childcare, you would get her back right after the court proceedings are over. You could check on her anytime you wanted,” Judge Gonzales said.

Jessica talked quietly to the Court Officer.

“She is going to put the baby in child care,” said the Court Officer to the judge.

“OK, we will recess for ten minutes. Anyone who wants to can check on their children during this time,” Judge Gonzales added.

Jessica carried her baby out of the room. Three children: a quiet baby, the sleeping girl, and the boy remained with their parents in the room.

When Jessica returned without the baby, the court formally started. The judge introduced herself, the Spanish interpreter, and Steven Chase, the Homeland Security lawyer who was with her in the courtroom in Harlingen, but off-camera except for the introduction.

I later googled Steven Chase and found his LinkedIn page. It showed that he been with Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement for six months. It’s his first job in Immigration law, his previous experience being mainly in tribal administrative law.

All the asylum seekers over the age of 14 were asked to stand and be sworn in. Judge Gonzales stated that she has no ability to let the asylum seekers enter the United States. That decision is made by Homeland Security. She explained that the proceedings would be confrontational and that the asylum seekers would be permitted to bring evidence. Homeland security might also bring evidence against their claim.

The remainder of the session, which lasted about thirty minutes, consisted of Judge Gonzales providing information and asking that everyone understood. They all agreed they understood every time they were asked, although the seven of us whispered questions to each other about the instructions.

  • They have a right to appeal a denial of asylum.
  • They have a right to representation, but the government will not pay for a lawyer for them.
  • They will be given a list of free or low-cost legal assistance organizations.
  • They have the choice of representing themselves and presenting evidence today, or they will receive a court date of May 12, 2020 (about three and a half months later) to return with their evidence. All the asylum seekers chose this option.
  • After the May 12 hearing, if asylum is recommended, another court date will be set for just their own or their family’s case.
  • There is a ten-page asylum application that must be completed in English. The application must be completed for each family member and evidence for torture, abuse or other reasons for asylum must accompany each application.
  • All documents submitted must be translated into English and accompanied by a certificate of translation. Judge Gonzales emphasized that if copies of evidence didn’t accompany every application, it was possible one claimant could be admitted and another denied.
  • If an asylum seeker arrived before July 16th, they must prove the date they arrived. Judge Gonzales suggested they could present a receipt from a hotel or shelter at the border, or show that they were on a waiting list kept by Homeland Security.

I rolled my eyes. The camp in Matamoros has no records. If someone arrived before July 16th and went to the camp, they would never be able to prove it. If they put their name on a waiting list owned by Homeland Security, couldn’t the court obtain that seeing as how they’re in the same department? The boring/depressing list continued.

  • If a claimant missed a court date, they would be denied and would no longer be able to continue with the process. Each person must appear in court, records cannot be sent with others.
  • Finally, the judge said that if they were admitted to the U.S., they would need to inform the court each time they had an address change.

The Judge then read a list of 34 other names of people who were sent notices to appear but who were not present. The Homeland Security attorney said that these people would be considered ineligible to proceed with the asylum process. No one from the group had questions. The court was adjourned.

“Wow, that’s a lot of people to miss their hearing,” I said to Kathy.

“There are a lot of reasons that could happen,” she said. “They have to pass a wellness check on the bridge. If their kid has lice, for instance, they wouldn’t be allowed to come to the hearing.”

One of the group asked the court officer why July 16th was important, and she explained that it was her understanding that after that date, no one would be eligible for asylum if they hadn’t applied for and been denied asylum in at least one country they had passed through on their way to the US.

As we walked back to the table with Estefan and our IDs, I felt numb. If I was running for my life or the lives of my children, on foot with only what I could carry, would I have evidence of the trauma and danger that drove me from my home? What would that evidence even consist of?

I mean, it could be tricky getting a cartel member who was extorting me with the threat of kidnap to write up the demands and get them notarized. Even if I had some kind of evidence, could I keep track of it on that long journey?

Once I arrived at the border of my chosen asylum country, would I understand what was being said in a foreign court? My Spanish is good enough to know that the Spanish interpreter seemed to be clearly and directly translating what the Judge said, but she used some legal jargon that members of our group were struggling to understand.

Also, would I be able to get my documentation completed correctly in a foreign language? Would I be able to get any documentation that I managed to put together translated into English? Finally, would I know to apply for asylum in other dangerous countries I traveled through? Would I be able to do that and stay with the group that provided a little safety for my family?

“It’s impossible,” I said to Kathy.

“Pretty much,” she replied.

Joshua Rubin, February 6

Our Hands

It is 7 am. I am at the Brownsville-South Padre Airport at the southernmost tip of the US border with Mexico. I came to witness a flight on World Atlantic, leaving this morning for Guatemala.

They have moved the plane so that it is mostly shielded from view. But sneaking around I was able to see four buses full of humanity, the intended cargo for this boxcar in the sky.

This is a deportation flight. People are being sent back to the region they fled in fear for their lives. Women. Men. Children. Babies.

As I sit in my rented car, to keep warm, I remember a story I read yesterday that details the numbers of folks who were sent back to Salvador on similar flights, the numbers of them who were murdered after their return. Can we avoid making the connection? We are sending some of these people to their extermination. Back home to die.

Our policy is now one that gets these asylum seekers and refugees off our hands as quickly as possible. But look down at those hands.

Can you see the blood?

Joshua Rubin, Feb 6

Karla Rader Barber, February 7

We have been informed that national NBC has picked up the story about deportation flights from the local Brownsville affiliate. Look tonight for a story about flights leaving BRO airport this morning.

Click image below for video:

KRB Feb 7

Brian K. Ozaki, February 9

As I reflect on my past few days I spent in Matamoros, I can’t help think about 78 years ago, when the US government came out with Executive Order 9066 on February 19th, 1942. An order that imprisoned 120k Japanese Americans while 2/3 were American citizens! On a human level, we know this was wrong and proved later that the government made a mistake. While spending time in the camp, with the people trying to seek asylum and a better life, I can’t help notice similarities from them and now.

1. Armed guards walking through the camp, flexing their authority, all the while, the incarcerated were calm and friendly.

2. In the worst situation, you can’t help but try to have an education, whether through volunteer teachers or on your own.

3. Keeping clean and tidy, getting haircuts. People washing clothes in designated areas. Some people were washing clothes on the Rio Grande too.

4. Many people waiting in line for food.

5. The gross indecency of human decency by transporting people in secret.

In 1942, they put the Japanese Americans on trains and were told not to have the shades up while transporting, so nobody knew where they were going and nobody knew who was on the train.

Fast forward to today, they shuttle the asylum seekers in the very, very early mornings shackled and hidden behind fuel trucks and hangers. Every day seemed a little more secret and more hidden.

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Jodi Goodwin, February 10

Tales of MPP

I have done hundreds if not thousands of asylum cases in the last 25 years. I am fairly confident I can judge the strength of cases. It does take a lot of time to prep cases. Minimum 25 to 80 plus hours. With this MPP bullshit, I have to add on at least 10 hours for travel to the DO NOT TRAVEL zone in Matamoros. So clearly, my ability to take cases is governed by how many I can have time to prep. I mean, the actual trial takes up very little of the time.

If there is another lawyer that can prep up a case and hand me a trial-ready file, I could do trials all day everyday. And to be clear, very seldom does this scenario play out. Every now and then, people in MPP hire a lawyer where they may have family in the US and I simply make the appearances for the lawyer since….well…I live here on the border and it is more convenient for me to appear instead of having the lawyer appear far away from home.

But here is the catch…when I appear for another lawyer, I expect the work was actually done to prep the case, that all documents were filed, etc.

I sit here with a straight up case that should win….but I can’t present it because the lawyer didn’t prep everything and file the documents with the court.

Meanwhile, my political activist university student who had been shot at and two friends killed before his eyes while he ran away from gunfire by government operatives of Nicaragua will likely be sent back to Mexico.

You know what MPP could really use? An army of lawyers willing to actually prep cases and hand them off correctly prepped and filed so I could just do trials all week long.

Debbie Nathan, February 10

And COMMERCIAL airlines (American, United, Delta plus more) are also helping ICE deport people to Central America.

See this new article in Newsweek, which mentions BRO [Brownsville Airport] as a place the flights go out of.

Thomas Cartwright, February 11

To witness is to make sure that those that do, know that there are those that watch.

Today we again witnessed and documented the morning flight of asylum seekers to the anything-but-safe country of Guatemala.

Our witness is working.

Rather than the annoyed airport security guard following us around today, ICE orchestrated the security.

First by surrounding the plane with every type of airport vehicle available to block our witness and documentation (photo), and then after the plane was boarded by keeping an eye on us.

Under the guise of asking us to be careful around the now empty buses so as not to be hit they posed the usual casual questions to see what kind of threat two sexagenarian men were. Where do you work, where did you work, are you from around here, etc. Questions we returned in kind.

We saw nothing today of airport security so we surmise that they were told to stand down and that ICE would handle. Tomorrow it will be interesting to see who the watchers of the watchers will be. Stay tuned. And better yet, join us to witness.

Joshua Rubin, February 11

536 deported to Guatemala since Nov. 21. This is the Asylum Cooperative Agreement, under the program called Prompt Asylum Claim Review, PACR.

Only 14 applications for asylum have been made by these folks to Guatemala. None of those applications have been granted.

Joshua Rubin, Feb 11

Joshua Rubin, February 12

The tents were washed on Sunday, men with hoses and brushes balancing on the top of them, constructed and maintained by Deployed Resources, whatever the hell that is.

ICE agents, acting chummy, joined us at the airport yesterday, where Witnesses watched mothers and children, probably from Honduras and Salvador, board a plane to Guatemala. They have their reasons, none of them good, for this game of three-card monte they play with people’s lives.

A woman approached Witnesses at the corner yesterday, a mother whose child was to be at a hearing, a child she had not seen for perhaps years, and she was told that she was a few minutes late, so she could not come in. I pleaded with them to make an exception, but rules were rules, I was told.

The man in charge, who I asked to see, said he could not make an exception. It was not on him, he explained. I differed with him. I told him he would have to live with what he was doing for the rest of his life.

The child will return to Guatemala. The mother never saw him.

We are Witnesses to crimes against humanity. Join us, if you can stand it.

Marina Welch, February 12

We counted 127 people being loaded on a plane. Planes are the new trains.


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