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Monday, August 10, 2020


by Janice MacKenzie

Asylum seekers have been waiting for hearings in Matamoros, Mexico, across the Matamoros-Brownsville Bridge from Brownsville, Texas. John Moore/Getty Images via Vox. Organizers say the camp is one of the last remaining along the U.S./Mexico border. Migrants returned to Mexico have faced months-long postponements in immigration hearings held underneath tents and in trailers across the river in Brownsville. Many of those returned to Mexico live in tents along the river for the duration of proceedings. Some have been living homeless for over a year, surviving with the assistance of Brownsville and Matamoros-based aid groups. Hearings are currently postponed until Texas reaches Stage 3 of its reopening plan. Due to a surge in cases, it will likely be months until proceedings begin again. Prior to COVID-19, the camp’s population was estimated to be over 2,500 with more asylum seekers living further into Matamoros. A recent census conducted by Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley documented 960 residents, suggesting that people have been abandoning their cases. —The Brownsville Herald, July 29, 2020

On this side, the tent city—
mud, flies, the stink of
unwashed bodies and latrines
families crowded together—
no hope, no future

On that side, steel & concrete—
cages for the children
uniformed men, with guns and
cold eyes
fences and barriers—
but hope for
something better

Between them, the river
wide and muddy, snaking through
the tall grasses and scrub brush
a barrier—but also a friend
giving water, a bath,
clean clothes

And spanning that divide,
the bridge—
symbol of connection,
of joining together
of safe passage

Now, a different kind of barrier
unfriendly concrete and steel girders
barbed wire and chain-link fencing
forming a narrow corridor
like a cattle chute
to check points,
to rejection

On this side, the sign reads
“Feliz Viaje”—
“Happy Journey”
though my journey was
anything but happy

On that side, an American flag flies
over a sign:  “Welcome to the United States
of America”—
but there is no welcome there
for me
and never will be

Janice MacKenzie is an acupuncturist, an activist, a poet and a photographer.  She came back to poetry after a long hiatus during which she built her acupuncture practice and became active in acupuncture politics.  The current political situation in the U.S. calls for poetry and activism. Janice has organized a weekly vigil since June, 2018, for the children of the migrants/asylum-seekers stuck at the Mexican border.  She lives in Sellersville, Pennsylvania.