Around 2,000 men, women, and children are living in tents or under plastic sheeting in Matamoros, Mexico, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas. They’re waiting for asylum hearings set many months in the future. Their makeshift shelters flood when it rains, their children get sick when it's cold; they receive few services, and are largely reliant on volunteers that bring food, clean water, and clothing.
They are in this situation as a result of the US government's Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” a policy implemented in 2019 that requires asylum seekers coming from Mexico and Central America to wait in violent, unfamiliar towns along the Mexico-US border until their asylum hearing dates in the US. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) works in Matamoros and other cities along the border, providing medical and mental health care and social services.
"We see now that with the new migration policy things have changed," says Nora Valdivia, MSF mental health supervisor. "Waiting times [for asylum hearings] are much longer. So we see changes in [peoples’] emotional and mental health. There is more despair and anguish. They start out with a lot of hope, but as the months go by they lose that. [Getting asylum] is their reason to keep going, and realizing that it takes up to 10 months or a year, it makes them feel devastated and increases their suffering."