Immigrants forced to wait in a squalid outdoor camp on the Mexican side of the border rejoiced Saturday at the news that Joe Biden won the US presidential election, hoping he keeps his promise to end the policy that stranded them there for months, some over a year.
Mervin Hidalgo, a 52-year-old asylum-seeker from Venezuela, said people at the camp in the Mexican city of Matamoros, started to celebrate in small groups as word of Biden's victory spread. He has been there since being sent there in October.
"This is not only a Biden victory. We migrants also won, and we are very happy," Hidalgo told BuzzFeed News. “Seeing Trump once again sit on his throne would have been fatal for us."
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The Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) has made more than 67,000 immigrants and asylum-seekers wait in Mexico while their cases are completed in the US. In 2019, the US changed the way it treated asylum-seekers seeking refuge at the border. Instead of being allowed to fight their cases in the US, immigrants were handed documents with a future court date, often months away, and largely left to fend for themselves in dangerous border cities like Matamoros and Ciudad Juarez despite assurances from the administration that Mexico would protect them.
Biden has pledged to end MPP, also known as Remain in Mexico, within his first 100 days in office.
Immigrants at the camp in Matamoros put up "Bye Trump" balloons with a poop emoji along the Rio Grande river that serves as the international boundary and facing the US side of the border. Across from the river is a Customs and Border Protection facility and the tent courts they used to have their hearings at before they were paused indefinitely during the pandemic.
Jose Lopez, a 45-year-old asylum-seeker from Nicaragua, had been keeping a watchful eye on the election results. He was part of a group of people who stayed up on election night.
Lopez, who has been in Matamoros for more than a year, said people shouted and cried. Others, he said, prayed when the race was called on Saturday. Lopez, like other immigrants BuzzFeed News spoke to, referred to Biden's victory as "our victory."
"We thanked God because he heard our cries," Lopez said. "We were victims of a project that was truly harmful to people’s humanity ... We thought we were invisible to the world, but we weren’t to God. We’re overjoyed right now."
Gabriel, a 35-year-old immigrant also sent back to Mexico with his family, said he hopes Biden keeps his promise to end the Remain in Mexico policy. The Honduran national, who declined to use his full name for security concerns, said immigrants throughout the city were celebrating, not just at the camp.
"A new hope has opened up for us after waiting for so long in Mexico," Gabriel said. "This could change our lives."
Waiting in Mexico was difficult, but at least there was the promise of a future court date. Then, citing the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration stopped holding hearings for immigrants wrapped up in the Remain in Mexico policy indefinitely. Combined with dangerous conditions inside the camp as the presence of organized crime grew, some immigrants in recent months tried to enter the US illegally.
A Human Rights First database has tracked more than 1,100 public reports of rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violence against people sent back to some of the most dangerous cities in the Western Hemisphere under MPP.
Taylor Levy, an immigration attorney based in El Paso, Texas, was one of the few lawyers who would walk into Mexico to help immigrants sent back there. On Saturday, she was sending messages to immigrants all over the world who were stuck in Mexico because of MPP.
"People are just so incredibly happy, so hopeful for the first time," Levy said. "'Desperation' and 'hopelessness' have been the prevailing adjectives I would use to describe the asylum-seekers stuck in Mexico, and now there's just finally hope."
Levy believes Biden will keep his promise to end MPP, but said lawyers and advocates will need to continue to put pressure on the incoming administration to treat immigrants and asylum-seekers humanely.
"We know that Biden was part of the Obama administration who were really the architects of increased family detention, of not-very-humane holding facilities at the border," Levy said. "We're going to have to push Biden to do better than he did before."
The public now knowing more now about immigration issues than it did under the Obama administration will help in holding Biden accountable and undoing policies like MPP, Levy added.
Dailín, a 26-year-old Cuban doctor living in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, said she had been praying for a Biden victory. In the time since she was sent back across the border by the US, she has been attacked twice, the second time shortly after she found out she was pregnant.
"I'm so happy, just like the rest of the Cubans on the border," Dailín said. "Now we just hope and trust [Biden] will deliver on his campaign promises."