The United States border police have returned several groups of migrants to Mexico this morning, a few kilometers to the south. In the dark of the night, they crossed the Rio Grande, crossed a canal with their arms raised so that their cell phones would not get wet, and started running towards McAllen among bushes and thorns, but they have caught them. They arrive soaked and muddy up to their ears and there are no metaphors here. The gun is pointed at one after the other and a red dot lights up on their forehead: they have no fever. Cough? headache? Shivering with cold, they listen to a little speech about the risks of the coronavirus. Anyone with no symptoms can be contagious without knowing it. They have put on face masks and given them a snack, a sandwich, water, an orange. The United States is their target, virus or no virus. Some of their relatives are already there and “a better life” awaits them. They repeat those three words without knowing what they will contain in the future. Not realizing that there is now a new enemy on the other side of the border that has already killed thousands of people. It doesn’t matter, they will keep challenging the river one more night. And another. And the police will do the same.
Reynosa is also one of the migrant deportation points, north of the State of Tamaulipas, which is scary just to mention it, thousands of murdered a year. If the “wet” or deportees leave the migration center where they are received in Mexico, they fall like rabbits into the hands of organized crime, which uses them in their service, kills them or kidnaps them for a few days in exchange for money that they will pay. the family that is already in the United States. The virus is a lesser evil for them. But Mexico is on edge, because in a single month, thousands of returnees can spread the coronavirus in areas that are still free of it. Remote villages, isolated in the mountains, will receive the countrymen who left without knowing that the bug may have traveled with them. They are advised to pass a quarantine upon arrival, but who is going to control that.
The virus is perhaps even a good opportunity to cross the border these days, Everardo thought. But what about. “It’s worse than ever, there are police everywhere,” he laughs. This morning, around five o’clock, he was caught, near McAllen, Reynosa’s sister city on the other side of the fence. “What an adventure.” For him it is almost a game. In just a couple of weeks he has tried to cross six times. Either way. “Since nothing’s wrong with me, I trust myself,” he says. But the Rio Grande has left some of the most dramatic photos in the world in recent months and a daily trickle of inert bodies barely takes up space in the news. Everardo is 18 reckless years old and is a very handsome boy who lives with his grandparents in Monterrey, the capital of another of the northern Mexican states, Nuevo León. His father is imprisoned there; her mother and four younger siblings already live in McAllen. It’s hard to believe that he won’t try again. Just because of the adrenaline: “They even chased me by helicopter. Last night there were four of us ‘wet’ and the guide, we crouched into a small plot and we already heard the motorcycles, the cars … I went crawling 70 meters, but they grabbed us all; We were talking in the truck, the policemen had a chat with us, that if the shrimp are so rich… when the guide jumps and runs away, but they grabbed him however he wants ”, he laughs again while he waits on the porch in the center of migrants to have relatives pick him up and dry his shirt.
Deportations and the hunting of men at the border have not stopped these days, although the contingents of migrants that the Trump Administration delivers in Mexican centers are now less numerous. Those in US prisons – or in detention centers because they have been caught without papers – may think that the coronavirus epidemic is not the best time to move from there. What are they going to do outside. Everything is frozen: businesses closed, empty streets, families in quarantine. In Reynosa there are days that receive 100, 200 deportees. Today only 37 arrived. Although longing devours some of those who are in prison and on any given day, Mother’s Day or Christmas, they sign their way out: to be returned to their land. Some have been caught without papers when they are practically gringos, with years of work on that side, a house of their own and a family. Maybe with covid-19. Some find it almost difficult to speak Spanish. Before entering Mexico, they will have already contacted a ‘pollero’ to cross again. They will have to get their clothes wet again any night, as in Sisyphus’s worst nightmare.
The coronavirus and an order from the bishop have closed the Virgen de Guadalupe refugee center in Reynosa, with the capacity to accommodate 80 people in their beds. They only accept an emergency, for example, the nine men who could not get on the bus on time and wait the next day. Three of them eat lentils and a chicken stew in silence on the patio. They are from Guerrero, Veracruz and Michoacán, three of the states that add up the most murders per year in Mexican statistics. For something these young people have come to find their hopelessness in the house of Sister Catalina.
The nun fears that the contagion of the virus will intensify with this coming and going of people from one border to the other. “People from many states come here, of course it is a risk. In addition, they are mostly poor people, with limited resources … We recommend that once they get home they keep the quarantine, but … There are some remote communities, in the mountains, which are almost a natural barrier for the virus, but if these men arrive and are infected … In some poor areas, the appropriate measures are not always taken, “laments the nun. Behind her mask, Sister Catalina adds: “I don’t know whose responsibility it is to close these borders. At least they should have made a place to quarantine, “he suggests.
In the states of northern Mexico, they do not spare criticism of the federal government and its National Migration Institute, because if they are not going to modify the strategy before the thousands of migrants established with Donald Trump, at least they ask for health measures against contagion. But none of that happens at the border. Not a single covid-19 detection test is carried out at the offices of the Reynosa national migration center. Faced with a similar vacuum, it is the State of Tamaulipas that has assigned health personnel for a first examination with the gun that measures fever, and several administrative officers take the data of the returnees and provide police escorts to the buses -these are, federal- where migrants return to their homes.
The protection of the agents reaches the border with a new state, where the jurisdiction of Tamaulipas ends and that of Nuevo León begins. Everything so that organized crime does not take a hold on the countrymen. Before they were taken to the bus station and paid for their return ticket, but that left them exposed to violence in this redoubt of hell where a truck cuts you off and kidnaps you before you even blink. Much more to a migrant who lands completely disoriented, without knowing where he is on the map after hours of travel from anywhere in the United States. Perhaps one day they entered through Tijuana, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and now they are being returned through Matamoros, on the Atlantic border. It is not a coincidence or whim, they are called cross deportations and they have authorship.
This month, the Tamaulipas migration center in Reynosa has attended about 500 returnees, when in 2017 there were more than 2,000 in the same period, says its person in charge, Ricardo Calderón Macías. “The returns of locals have also decreased, to whom now, as they are detained in passing, they are sent here.” It refers to the night hunting of those who cross daily. More than 40% of the Mexicans returned to the United States enter their country through Tamaulipas. The coronavirus forces them to think fast. Calderón says they are waiting to install one of those sanitizing tunnels that, supposedly, disinfect when passing under them, but in some Mexican cities, like Monterrey, they have already removed them, after criticism that they were inane against the virus and perhaps harmful to health.
Each one invents what he can in the face of risks that are more than obvious. The passage of migrants, those who accumulate to cross and those who return deported, is not the only alarm in this line of the map. Reynosa is one of those cities with a hybrid population. The paradox indicates that people mix more when there is a border in between, because everyone wants from the other side what they do not have on theirs. Proof of this are the dozens of dental clinics and pharmacies, plastic surgery centers and other specialties that exist in this city. Thousands of Americans take care of their teeth here because the smile is cheaper. That also cheers up the coronavirus.
In Reynosa there has been one death and the infected number now more than a dozen. As in other places, hospitals are these days conditioning even the parking lot to make space for the extra beds they will need. “Viruses, the smallest ones, are teaching us a lesson,” says the mayor of the city, of almost half a million inhabitants, counted in 2010. Maki Ortiz Domínguez affirms that the countrymen and those in front already know that they should not cross except for essential things. Trust in the dissemination of messages from the federal and municipal governments. “With the migrants what we have to do is support them, because they are vulnerable groups, we are distributing food, supporting shelters with hygiene kits, we have allocated 60 million pesos from our budget. Each one must give the maximum, we ask the employers to pay their employees ”. Deportations from the United States also include hundreds of Central Americans who have to cross all of Mexico to reach their countries of origin. These days they are not just migrants, they are also potential viruses in transit. “There should be strong coordination, that each country takes care of its own,” proposes the mayor.
In the middle of the morning, Mario’s van heads for Sister Catalina’s shelter, where nine men wait who failed in their attempt to fly away. They get into the vehicle with the masks and a bag of sweets to entertain the trip that a nun has given them. “Thank you for everything, mother” is the only thing you hear. The journey will be in silence. Reyes Hernández, from Guerrero, Cristian Andrade, from Veracruz, and Juan Carlos, from Michoacán go in this contingent. They all left a wife and children at home. They assure that when they arrive they will be quarantined for the good of their families. They have been in prison, where the food, they say, even had worms. They also say they have no heart to try again. Cristian has crossed the river five times since he left his profession as a driver to seek “a better life.” Reyes returns to his ranch, his corn and his calves. And Juan Carlos, to the kingdom of avocado, a product that crosses the borders to the United States without any problem. In this journey of just one kilometer to the bus that will take them to their destinations, they are escorted by a state police patrol. Halfway there, a cross stands in memory of the dead migrants. In this area organized crime kills more than the Rio Grande. The virus has not yet shown its worst side. He has only put masks on all the migrants.
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What the trade has joined that does not stop a virus
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Julissa crossed the border at the age of 12 and caught the virus in New York, her mother is deported in Mexico