Overnight protest at bridge ends without incident

An overnight protest on the Gateway International Bridge ended early Tuesday morning without incident after Mexican authorities escorted a group of about 100 asylum seekers requesting entry into the United States back to Matamoros.

According to a statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, vehicular and pedestrian traffic was temporarily halted shortly after 1 a.m. on Tuesday for about three and a half hours. The incident occurred when the group approached CBP personnel stationed at the international line requesting information on immigration processing timelines.

“Mexican authorities dispersed the crowd and traffic resumed shortly before 5 a.m. without incident,” wrote the agency.

A witness at the bridge indicated that some of the officers were armed. Asked to describe CBP procedure in response to such a demonstration, the agency stated, “CBP is a law enforcement agency and our highly trained officers will respond in a manner commensurate with the specific threat they may face in order to ensure the safety of the traveling public and their fellow officers. That being said, per our policy, trained officers equipped with pepperball launching systems and long guns also responded to mid-bridge as the intent of the group was not known initially. There were no reports of individual officers drawing their weapons.”

Founders of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers Felicia Rangel-Samponaro received messages from staff just before 2 a.m. on Tuesday regarding the protest. She and co-founder Victor Cavazos opted to go to the bridge to ensure officials handled the situation peacefully.

Staff explained that Mexican nationals seeking asylum had decided to protest the U.S. government’s refusal to let them cross. Rangel-Samponaro and Cavazos were the last to arrive on the bridge before Mexican officials closed off the entryway.

For three hours, the group waited peacefully on the bridge, even taking naps. “People trying to cross had turned their cars off, they were standing outside their cars, walking up to the gate where Border Patrol was, asking what was going on,” Rangel-Samponaro said.

The Sidewalk School director began taking videos as more officials arrived on both sides, including Mexican military. Three frustrated women driving cars with Texas plates wove through the line of vehicles, parking right next to the group of asylum seekers.

“They turned on their car alarms and let them go off for 30 to 45 minutes. They went up to the guards demanding to be let into the U.S., because they’re American,” she said. “After, they set off their car alarms and honked their horns. One of them called some children over to the car window. She told them that if they’re so brave, they need to jump into the river and swim for it.”

Rangel-Samporano watched CBP allow two of those women entry into the United States after Mexican military escorted the asylum seekers off the bridge and into Matamoros. On the Mexican side, video showed the roads leading up to the checkpoint totally empty, with armed military holding back a line of cars and pedestrians at the gate near Garcia’s Restaurant and Bar.

U.S. and Mexican authorities reportedly shut down all traffic at the bridge, including a crowd of asylum seekers who at 4:30 a.m. needed to be present at court in Brownsville to avoid having their cases dismissed. After the demonstration, Rangel-Samponaro said there was real fear that court dates had been missed.

“I saw hundreds of people running to that bridge. Running. Because they were late to court and if you’re late, you get deported back to your home country,” she said.