HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — Hundreds of tattered tents line the Mexican banks of the Rio Grande in what migrant aid workers are calling Rio Camp.
Volunteers work as best as they can to pass out toiletries and provide water and other assistance that the asylum-seekers need.
But Erin Hughes, co-founder of the non-governmental organization Solidarity Engineering, says it isn’t enough.
“The homeless population of asylum-seekers has skyrocketed. There are thousands of people who have to live on the streets. There’s just not enough room in the shelters right now,” Hughes told Border Report on Wednesday just before crossing from McAllen, Texas, into Reynosa, Mexico, where her organization goes three times a week to give what assistance they can.
The all-female-led team of engineers has helped to design and expand the two existing shelters — Senda I and Senda II — and is now focusing on Rio Camp.
“We’re doing our best to provide enough bathrooms and water but the people living on the streets are in dire need of help,” Hughes said.
Thousands of asylum-seekers have been expelled to Mexico under Title 42, a public health policy that prevents them from crossing into the United States to claim asylum as a way to limit the spread of coronavirus. The policy was enacted during the Trump administration and has not been limited by the Biden administration.
Solidarity Engineering helps migrants in Reynosa, Mexico, including teaching children physics lessons at the migrant camps. (Photos by Solidarity Engineering)
Hughes, 33, splits her time between the Rio Grande Valley and her hometown of Philadelphia.
She says she disagrees with immigration policies that keep desperate people out of the United States.
“The motivation behind doing this work is just that these people are in need and, honestly, it’s due to American policies that they are being forced to live in these conditions,” Hughes said.
Aside from Haitians, she says there are Venezuelans, Ukrainians and Russians seeking help in Reynosa.
Border Report first caught up with her a year ago and at the time she was struggling with her Spanish skills. But now she says Haitian Creole is the language needed to assist the Haitian asylum-seekers living in Reynosa.
There are about 4,000 migrants in the two shelters, and 700 people living in Rio Camp, she said.
In the past 18 months, Solidarity Engineering has put in solar panels for cellphone charging stations, built separate bathroom blocks with dozens of showers and toilet stalls for men and women at the shelters, and put in laundry basins.
They have even given pre-teens and teens physics lessons on donated tablets that the children use to play ice skating games after learning about friction and energy.
They give out toiletries like menstrual pads, soap, and toilet paper: “A lot of the consumables that we use every day to keep us healthy, to keep us clean,” she said.
They are currently working to construct a large water tower to distribute between the men’s and women’s bathrooms and the kitchen, she said.
And they are embarking on what she calls her “favorite project”: a new community playscape for the families.
“It will have chutes, ladders, lots of things for kids to climb over and play through. The theme of the playground is, essentially, that these kids can overcome,” Hughes said. “I think it’s really easy to forget that play is such a critical aspect of a child’s life and it might be as necessary as food and water to them.”
They still need about $14,000 in donations to complete the playscape project, she said.