MONTERREY, Mexico – The shiny silver balloons appeared in the squalid refugee camp in Mexican border city of Matamoros on Friday afternoon, as former vice president Joe Biden appeared poised for victory in the US presidential election against incumbent Donald Trump.
“Bye Trump,” the balloons read in all capital letters.
By Saturday morning, shouts of joy began to ring out in the camp where hundreds of asylum seekers have been stuck just across the river from Brownsville, Texas, under President Trump’s hardline immigration policies.
“We’re all going to celebrate today!” said Dairon Elisondo, a Cuban asylum seeker who works as a doctor in the Matamoros camp. “Everyone is so happy.”
Biden was declared victor of the US presidential election by several major television networks on Saturday, even as Trump filed lawsuits, alleging fraud without providing evidence, and said the race was “far from over.”
Under Trump, US law has been progressively tightened to the point that it is now all but impossible to apply for asylum along the US southern border.
It has been a tense week in the tent city, the largest of the makeshift encampments that sprung up in Mexican border towns after the Trump administration returned at least 66,000 asylum seekers to Mexico while their claims snaked through U.S. courts.
Dozens spent the election night singing hymns, praying for a Biden victory. Others posed outside their tents with “Vote Biden-Harris” signs, although they could not vote in the Nov.3 election that camp members said would determine their future.
The ensuing days brought fitful and sleepless nights to many, said Oscar Borjas, a Honduran asylum seeker, who recalled rising repeatedly throughout the night on Thursday to scour the internet for updates about the ballot count in Nevada.
The Matamoros camp, a sprawling and unsanitary makeshift encampment at the United States’ doorstep, has become a symbol of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration. At its peak, it housed up to 3,000 asylum seekers.
Borjas estimates it now has about 800 left, after hundreds gave up waiting in the dangerous border city, where human rights groups have documented asylum seekers being kidnapped and extorted, and returned to their home countries.
REMAIN IN MEXICO?
Biden has promised to end the “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially called Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, although there are few details so far on how he will go about it.
Still, Borjas does not think the camp will be dismantled anytime soon. Even with Biden taking over, he estimates it could be at least another year until he and other asylum seekers could enter the United States while pursuing their claims, as was the pre-Trump administration policy.
“But it doesn’t matter,” he said. “The main thing is that we can’t return to our countries.”
Borjas said he fled Honduras after surviving threats and an assassination attempt linked to his political organizing against the ruling party. Reuters could not independently verify that.
The Trump administration has enacted a series of overlapping policies and restrictions that immigration experts say will be difficult for Biden to untangle.
But for now, asylum seekers are thrilled that the Trump era has seemingly come to an end.
“Our hope is that migratory laws will change to be more pro-migration,” said Elisondo. “For everyone,” he added.