After pastor in Mexico expels nearly 200 migrants, brother welcomes them all

MATAMOROS, Mexico – During the summer, as migrants rushed to the Mexican border town of Matamoros, a local pastor lost patience. The pa...


MATAMOROS, Mexico – During the summer, as migrants rushed to the Mexican border town of Matamoros, a local pastor lost patience.

The pastor, Víctor Barrientos, had already invited dozens of asylum seekers to live in his church, believing that it was his religious duty as an evangelical Christian. But suddenly, it seemed to him, there were too many people. His guests were messy, he said, and “out of control” – then, just as the third wave of the pandemic hit, they started to contract the coronavirus.

So one day in late June, the pastor expelled nearly 200 people. He let a few families stay.

“I don’t get any help from the state or the federal government,” the pastor said. “It’s just a church, not a place to house people.”

With nowhere to go, the migrants crossed the street and found refuge with the only person who would greet them – the pastor’s brother, Joel, who works as a technician for an internet provider. He packed as many people as he could into his one bedroom house.

He and his wife have moved most of their things to their bedroom to make room and are now sleeping on the floor. He let migrants who could not find a place inside set up tents on the roof.

“I don’t know,” said Joel Barrientos, squinting at his brother’s nearby church, “what happened to him.”

Matamoros has long been a brief stopping point for migrants en route to the north, known to be violent terrain that is best crossed as quickly as possible. But after former President Donald J. Trump forced people to stay Mexico As they applied for refugee status, the city became a place where migrants awaited their fate in the long term.

After President Biden began allowing asylum seekers to cross the border, a migrant camp in Matamoros – just across from Brownsville, Texas – closed. But more people came, and they were soon faced with a closed door to an overwhelmed border.

Best estimates suggest there are several hundred, if not thousands, of migrants still holed up in the city, and they are receiving little help from Mexican authorities.

Instead, alongside a mishmash of nonprofits offering humanitarian aid, the people of Matamoros – like the people of towns across Mexico – have often been those who have helped, by letting migrants stay on porches or lawns, turning churches into makeshift refugee camps and, in at least one case, creating shelter in an abandoned house.

As the wait for migrants grows, the generosity of some in this once-abundant city is dwindling.

Víctor Barrientos, the 50-year-old pastor, said he first welcomed migrants to his church in 2014, when Central American children began to show up en masse at the border. At Christmas, “we bought gifts for the children,” he said.

A few years later, as large caravans of migrants headed north, he found entire families sleeping outside the bridge to Brownsville. The numbers remaining inside his church quickly grew to three digits.

“I’ll be honest, he treated me very well,” said Iris Romero Acosta, a Honduran migrant who met the pastor in 2019, while living on the streets in Matamoros. “He brought us food and welcomed us. “

Ms Romero, 51, moved into the church with her daughter and two grandchildren. The pastor, she said, was a cheerful presence, inviting a group of Mariachi to play on Mother’s Day and buying cakes to celebrate birthdays.

“He took good care of us,” she said. “He was really caring. “

As the pastor traveled outside of Matamoros and then ran for town hall this year, he left the church in the care of his brother Joel Barrientos, 49. As more and more people began to flock to Matamoros, the brother and his wife, Gabriela Violante, left the ranks inside to exceed 200.

The queues for the bathroom got so long that women started going in just to reserve a spot. The floors were covered with families sleeping back to back. People got rashes, colds, and then the coronavirus.

When the pastor returned to church on a Sunday in April, he said he was appalled at what he found. The refrigerators were “full of bugs” and “no one wore masks,” he recalls.

He gave everyone a coronavirus test, and after the positive results started coming in, the pastor said enough. He had let a small group stay, but everyone needed to get out.

“I cannot solve everyone’s life for them,” he said.

Ms Romero, who was among those who left, admitted that the place had become “dirty” with “scattered care”.

Still, she struggles to reconcile the image of the same man who took her to the street with the one who threw her to the curb.

“He has become unrecognizable,” Ms. Romero said. “My pastor’s heart has changed.

The brother’s house is now full of mats where people sleep side by side. An additional bathroom has been built in its modest entrance. The stove always seems to be cooking something.

So many people have pitched tents on the roof that recently “the ceiling has started to fall,” said Joel Barrientos, laughing at the memory. He had a column built in the middle of his living room to support the weight.

When asked why he had welcomed so many, he spoke of his faith. “We love the Lord’s work,” he said. His brother, he said, “has changed” at one point and now “doesn’t like migrants.”

His wife, Mme Violante, is sharper. “He can talk about the Bible,” she says of her brother-in-law, “but he doesn’t put it into practice.

Their neighbors reacted with caution to the overflow of migrants on their doorsteps. When it rains, some people let families stay dry under the roof of their garage.

A local trader, Mario Alberto Palacios, has started charging families $ 12 per week to set up tents outside his convenience store. Mr. Palacios demands a payment of 50 cents each time someone uses the bathroom.

“I don’t charge them for electricity or water,” Palacios said, defending the charges.

On a recent Sunday, some of the migrant families living with the brother took a break from their afternoon routines to listen to the sound of live Christian rock music pass through the sweltering air.

Inside the pastor’s church, the crowd was warmed up by a group whose lead singer returned the next day to perform inside the brother’s house for his own service, in which various friends took turns leading. prayers.

The families outside stood still, listening to the muffled chorus; they knew not to pass a post just ahead, which marked the spot where the pastor’s land began.

“Mom,” a little girl shouted, as a song about God’s love filtered through the walls of the church. “I know this one!”

In his sermon on the value of the family, the pastor briefly considered the issue of migrants. Sometimes, he told his flock, migrants do not act appropriately.

“But even if the migrants behave badly, God protect the migrants,” he said, his voice rising to a near cry.

“God bless our migrant brethren,” the pastor said, pointing to the open door, where dozens of families were gathered outside in tents, but no longer on his land. “Bless them, bless them. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: After pastor in Mexico expels nearly 200 migrants, brother welcomes them all
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