HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — Gabriela “Gaby” Fajardo knew something was wrong.
The Honduran mother and her 5-year-old son, Joseph, were riding in a bus with dozens of other migrants after being flown to San Diego from South Texas, where they had crossed the Rio Grande illegally.
The 150 migrants with whom they were apprehended and processed by DHS officials had been loaded into three buses Thursday afternoon. One went north to a shelter on the U.S. side in San Diego. But two buses, including Fajardo’s, went south.
As her bus crossed an overpass near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, she began to get hysterical and cry because she realized they were being deported back to Mexico.
For Fajardo, this was a crushing blow after she and her son spent the past two years living in the northern Mexican border town of Matamoros, under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, known as “Remain in Mexico.” While there, waiting for her U.S. asylum case, she taught for the nonprofit organization Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, which is run by Felicia Rangel-Samponaro.
“She called us on the bus in a panic, crying and screaming when they were on the bus headed into Mexico, and she told us where she was. My immediate response was: ‘Hold on, I’m coming to get you,'” Rangel-Samponaro told Border Report.
It is a scenario that thousands of migrants are finding themselves in as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and DHS officials shuffle asylum-seekers across the country, and hundreds are being deported daily into northern Mexican border cities like Tijuana, Juarez and Nuevo Laredo and even the tiny town of Sasabe, Mexico. But not all have the connections or know folks, like Rangel-Samponaro, who are willing to fly to get them.
Fajardo taught young students for two years at the sidewalk school, a nonprofit at a migrant tent camp across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, in Matamoros.
But after the migrant refugee camp was shut down in early March, after most of the 1,000 asylum-seekers were allowed into the United States as part of the Biden administration’s rollback of the MPP program, Fajardo and her son decided to cross the river one night, Rangel-Samponaro said.
“Gaby has been with me for two years. We’ve become extremely close. We’ve all been through a lot,” she said.
Their MPP case had been dismissed in February, Rangel-Samponaro said “due to a clerical error” and they now have a new immigration lawyer. But the pair grew antsy and tired of seeing so many of their asylum-seeking friends who had lived in the camp and in apartments in Matamoros allowed to cross without them. And so like so many others, they took their chances.
“It was just hard for her to see most of her friends coming into the United States, some going to Miami Beach, and moving on,” Rangel-Samponaro said. “So she crossed the Rio Grande and she and her son turned themselves into Border Patrol.”
Fajardo and Joseph were held by DHS officials in South Texas for three nights and four days “before they were told they were going to process them in San Diego.”
The pair was then flown in a plane full of migrants to San Diego where they thought they would find refuge at a shelter.
But when her bus headed south, so did her spirits.
Mexican officials soon met up with the bus and escorted them to a shelter far from the border in a remote canyon.
And that’s where Rangel-Samponaro said she found them on Saturday in a shelter with 700 other migrants piled atop one another, with no social distancing, no COVID-19 protocols in place, little food and few resources.
“When I saw Gaby, she ran up to me and started bawling because she was so happy to get them out,” Rangel-Samponaro said via phone Monday evening as she and Victor Cavazos, who helps run the sidewalk school, waited at the San Diego airport to fly back to Brownsville.
“She said she had only had one meal and that was oatmeal,” Rangel-Samponaro said.
With so many people at the shelter, the lines for showering and charging cellular devices took hours. And Fajardo and her son had to choose whether to wait for food or wait to charge their phones, and they chose the latter because Fajardo needed constant assurances that someone was coming to get her, she said.
“This is the first time we had to go pick up a teacher from another city in Mexico,” Rangel-Samponaro said. “It was incredibly upsetting. I was speaking with her throughout just to calm her down, telling her: ‘I am coming.'”
Tijuana is full of migrants who have been deported from the United States or have come North trying to cross. One tent camp has over 1,400 migrants right now and there is pressure on the Biden administration to let them cross, like thousands of asylum-seekers have been able to do in Texas since President Joe Biden took office, and since Mexican officials in the northern border state of Tamaulipas have refused to take back “tender-age” children of 7 or younger.
Fajardo and Joseph are back in Matamoros now, living in an apartment near the Gateway International Bridge, a stone’s throw from the banks of the Rio Grande, but impassable for them unless they are willing to risk another crossing.
Only one other teacher from the Sidewalk School remains in Matamoros. All the others have been paroled into the United States. And with so many migrants having crossed, Rangel-Samponaro has extended her nonprofit and has opened two schools in Reynosa, Mexico, across from McAllen. She also has schools in El Paso, and has opened a school at the burgeoning camp in Tijuana.
“I just feel like Biden is somewhat like (Donald) Trump. He’s just expelling asylum-seekers in a different way,” Rangel-Samponaro said.