MATAMOROS, Mexico — Families of asylum-seekers returned under the Trump administration's controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy spend most of their day waiting in the hot sun on the Mexican side of the border, thinking about the day they will get a chance to enter the US.
At the Gateway International Bridge connecting the border cities of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, the number of asylum-seekers forced to wait while their immigration cases play out in the US continues to grow, and so do the number of children who have traveled to the border along with their parents.
Under the Trump administration’s Migration Protection Protocols policy, asylum-seekers are sent back to Mexico as their cases are processed in US immigration courts, which can take months or years to complete. Advocates have criticized the program as cruel and illegal, and in recent months, US asylum officers have told a federal appeals court the program was “fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our nation.” The Trump administration has continued implementing the policy despite a legal challenge in courts, and it plans to expand the program across the entire border as part of a deal with the Mexican government, which was desperate to stave off tariffs.
BuzzFeed News spoke to some of the children — most of them from Central America, Cuba, and Venezuela — who now live at the encampment near the bridge and in Matamoros to ask what they hoped their futures would look like in the US. For privacy reasons, BuzzFeed News is publishing only their first names and ages.
Genesis, a 9-year-old girl waiting with her family in Matamoros, said she wants to be an attorney one day. She misses attending school, where her favorite subjects were social and natural science.
“I want to be able to work calmly and not have to do something that puts my life at risk or makes me work under the sun too long. Anything that will give me a better future,” Genesis said in Spanish. “I want to help kids.”
Hilary, 14, said she hopes to one day become a mechatronic engineer because it combines mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering.
“It’s considered new even though it’s not, and it’s really useful,” Hilary said. “I want to be so many things.”
Hilary has also dreamed of serving in the military and being a soccer player like her favorites from the US women's team: Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Rosemary Lavelle. The 14-year-old, who used to play on a girls soccer team back at home, said she was thrilled when the US won the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.
“One day I hope to have the chance to do what they did; I’m going to fight for that,” Hilary said. “In my country, it’s hard to dream like that. You have to leave in order to reach your dream. ... I’m never going to quit. When I want something, I fight until I get it.”
David, 13, hopes to one day be a mechanic and own his own auto shop. Waiting in Matamoros with his family, he recently watched as a mechanic repaired a car’s air conditioner near the bridge linking Mexico and the US.
“I want to know everything about how a car works,” David said. “All of the different parts really interest me.”
Valeria said she hopes to one day become a veterinarian. Like many, if not all, of the kids forced to wait in Mexico in Matamoros under the Trump administration's policy, she's not enrolled in school.
“I want to help animals,” the 9-year-old said. “My favorite animals are dogs. I like the ones that look like wolves.”
“I want to be a soldier," said Carlos, 11. "I tell the soldiers who are here at the bridge, I want to be one of them.”
Carlos lives in a tent with his mother on the side of the international bridge where small groups of soldiers stand guard. Parents have complained that when criminals or others threaten the group of asylum-seekers at the encampment, the soldiers, as well as police officers and immigration agents, are nowhere to be seen.
“I want to be an American,” Ilich, age 7, said. “I also want to be a police officer. ... I like their uniforms and want to protect people.”
“I want to be a soccer player. It’s such a beautiful sport and it’s my passion,” Mikell said. “I want to be like [Lionel Messi] because he’s the best player in the world.”
“I want to study and have a better life,” Christopher said. “I’d like to be an engineer because they make a lot of money and get to fix cars and machines.”
Genessy said she wants to be a doctor one day.
“They help people and save lives,” the 7-year-old said.
Jancel dreams of becoming a professional soccer player like Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
“I really like playing soccer with my friends,” the 11-year-old said. “Playing a game of soccer is really fun and you get to exercise. You burn a lot of fat playing.”
“My dream is to be a carpenter just like my dad,” Ever said. “I used to help my dad. He would design wood tables; I really liked the designs he made.”
“I want to be a tennis player and a singer," Brenda said.
Nicol hopes to one day become a doctor.
“I want to be a doctor so when my parents are sick, I can help them and also other people.” Nicol said. “I want to help deliver babies.”