“If it’s several hundred over night than that’s something that would become overwhelming for us,” said Mr. Mendez, adding that the coronavirus positivity rate among the released migrants hovers around 10 percent to 15 percent, compared to 25 percent for the Brownsville community at large. “The administration is very well aware of that, we’ve conveyed that on numerous occasions.”
On Saturday, border agents dropped off a dozen migrants, all mothers and small children, outside of the Brownsville bus station. Within minutes, a team of city officials and volunteers had begun setting up a station to test for the coronavirus. With a negative, they were allowed into the station to continue their journey. If they tested positive, the volunteers used donations to pay for their quarantine at a local hotel — although it was not mandatory. Within three hours, the number of migrants at the station grew to about 50.
Doris, a mother of two boys who fled an abusive former partner in Guatemala and crossed the border in recent weeks, did not expect to be provided testing, blankets or coloring books for her children when she was dropped off on Saturday.
“They’re very good people,” she said of the city staff and volunteers.
A similar effort is underway in Matamoros. On the north end of the encampment, which holds about 1,000 migrants, authorities are putting the final touches on a large tent where migrant families will receive a test for the coronavirus before they cross into the United States. Volunteers for the Red Cross walked around a camp that was for months neglected by both the Mexican and American governments.
One Honduran, Walter Lara, who had lived in the camp since November 2019, was so excited at the prospect of entering the United States that he asked another asylum seeker to give him a haircut for the occasion. He was willing to be patient.
“We believe in the process that will happen,” Mr. Lara said.
Elsewhere confusion reigned. Those stranded by “remain in Mexico” struggled to register through the administration’s online system and were frustrated that new arrivals are being released across the border, Ms. D’Cruz said.
“I always have said, when you start with something illegal and incomprehensible, you’re going to end with something illegal or incomprehensible,” Ms. D’Cruz said.