McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Churches and nonprofits that help asylum-seekers in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas are rallying to assist thousands of migrants before temperatures plunge below freezing.
Officials in South Texas also are opening up warming centers to help asylum-seekers who have been released from the Department of Homeland Security but have nowhere safe to go as a frigid blast of Arctic air is expected to move into the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told Border Report that officials are working to convert the Mercedes Civic Center into a warming center.
“There’s been a coordination between all the different partners dealing with this matter,” Cortez said. “I’m concerned but the good thing is we have Catholic Charities and a large group of Catholic churches and centers and we’re trying to prepare.”
He said the city of Mercedes, which is between McAllen and Brownsville, is opening a warming shelter for local residents at its Safe Room/Community Recreation Center, which is commonly called “The Dome” because of its dome shape.
“The Dome is going to be for the locals and the Civic Center they said, ‘hey we might be able to use it for immigrants if you can get them here,'” Cortez said.
Mercedes city officials tweeted that local residents can utilize the warming shelter on Thursday and Friday and must bring their own blankets, pillows, food and medications needed, however, pets are not allowed.
At least 19 warming centers are scheduled to open in Hidalgo, Starr and Cameron Counties as a hard freeze is expected to hit the Rio Grande Valley border region, according to a map posted Wednesday on the Texas Division of Emergency Management’s website.
The National Weather Service in Brownsville reports a polar plunge will hit the state of Texas and will move south to the border region on Thursday, dropping temperatures by about 60 degrees as 50 mph winds push through mid-day.
Temperatures are expected to go from the 70s to as low as 10 degrees on Friday morning.
“The arctic-sourced cold will continue through Christmas morning, with sub-freezing temperatures at sunrise each day, and very low “feels like” temperatures through at least noon on Christmas Eve day,” according to the NWS website.
South of the border, about 10,000 asylum seekers who live in tents and flimsy shelters while waiting to cross into the United States are particularly at risk.
Andrea Rudnik, a volunteer with the nonprofit Team Brownsville, says they are surging resources to Matamoros, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, where she says about 3,000 people are now living in a makeshift encampment near the Gateway International Bridge.
“We’re purchasing lots of blankets, gloves, hats. We’re partnering with NGOs that are there all the time to try to get things distributed,” Rudnik told Border Report on Wednesday.
“The unfortunate thing in Matamoros is that there’s not a lot of structure to the new encampment. It’s not a sanctioned encampment, it’s a pickup encampment, so now we have 2,000 to 3,000 people in an area that had none or very few just a couple weeks ago, which makes it very difficult because there’s not the infrastructure in place,” she said.
A video posted on the Dulce Refugio Shelter’s Facebook page shows thousands of migrants living under plastic tarps and tents and cooking in the open air underneath a canopy of ash and elm trees along the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros.
This is near where as many as 6,000 migrants camped for years starting in 2019 through 2021 after they were returned to Mexico under the then-Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program.
Now, thousands have migrated to Matamoros hoping to cross into the United States if Title 42 lifts on Dec. 27, as the Biden administration in a brief filed Tuesday evening with the Supreme Court has requested.
“This is not just a one-shot thing. The winter temperatures will go on. So this is just the beginning of it but there will be cold temperatures in January and February so we’re hoping for items that will sustain people for at least a little while. Of course, we don’t know when exactly they’ll begin to cross. This is just the beginning of the cold,” Rudnik said.
But it is expected to be “the strongest pre-Christmas cold front since the late 1980s,” according to the National Weather Service.
The non-governmental organization Angry Tias and Abuelas has been buying thousands of blankets and distributing supplies south of the border, Rudnik said.
Several faith-based leaders are organizing the distribution of hot coffee and drinks and food on Christmas in Matamoros and Reynosa, Mexico, about 50 miles west.
Another outdoor camp in Reynosa, nicknamed Camp Rio because it is located on the banks of the Rio Grande, also is worrisome for migrant advocates.
And every day more keep coming.
“So many people just lined up. Lined up hoping to get registered in hopes of crossing into the U.S.,” Rudnik said.