MATAMOROS, Mexico — Witnesses reported that roughly two dozen makeshift tents were set on fire and destroyed at a migrant camp near the Texas border earlier this week. The incident highlights the dangers faced by those awaiting entry into the US while staying in Mexico, as the Biden administration increasingly relies on the neighboring country to house people fleeing poverty and violence.
The fires occurred on Wednesday and Thursday at a camp housing around 2,000 migrants, predominantly from Venezuela, Haiti, and Mexico, in Matamoros, close to Brownsville, Texas. An advocate for migrants stated that gasoline was used in the arson. The responsible party remains unidentified, but cartel-affiliated gangs, known for exploiting migrants and demanding money for passage through their territory, are often suspected in border attacks. However, a government official suggested that frustrated migrants awaiting border crossing may have set the fires.
Although no deaths or major injuries were reported, around 25 rudimentary shelters were destroyed, and many lost personal belongings, including clothing and documents. Criminal groups frequently target migrants in the area, demanding money for passage through their territory.
Juan José Rodríguez, director of the Tamaulipas Institute for Migrants, attributed the fires to a group of migrants expressing frustration with a U.S. government mobile app, CBPOne, which assigns slots for individuals to appear at the border and request asylum. The app has been plagued by glitches, and demand far exceeds the 740 daily slots available, leading to tensions in Mexican border cities where migrants are housed in camps and shelters.
The incident in Matamoros follows a March 27 fire that claimed the lives of 40 men at a Mexican immigration detention center in Ciudad Juarez, allegedly started by a detained migrant protesting facility conditions. As the U.S. government prepares to end pandemic-era asylum restrictions, known as Title 42 authority, on May 11, it is increasingly relying on Mexico to house migrants. Mexico has recently begun accepting individuals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela who cross the border irregularly and are turned back by the U.S.