Female-led engineering firm improves living conditions for asylum-seeking migrants at Reynosa camp

Border Report

Nonprofit is asking for donations on Giving Tuesday to help migrants

HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — The tiny downtown plaza in crime-ridden Reynosa, Mexico, is no place for some 2,500 asylum-seekers to be living, says engineer Erin Hughes, whose humanitarian-based nonprofit is working to help the migrants.

Erin Hughes, co-founder of the nonprofit Solidarity Engineering talks Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, about their efforts to provide water and shelter for migrants in Reynosa, Mexico, just over the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Hughes is co-founder of Solidarity Engineering, a female-led engineering group that crosses from South Texas into Reynosa three times a week to improve the conditions there. And on this Giving Tuesday, they have shared with Border Report how tough the conditions are in the hopes that they will receive donations so they can better help the migrants.

“The current conditions in the plaza are atrocious. These people are living under tarps and in tents right on top of each other. Every time it rains it becomes an inaccessible muddy mess. Right now we provide the water and we help provide the porta potties but we’re super limited in our funding,” Hughes told Border Report on Tuesday at the base of the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge that leads from McAllen, Texas, across the border to the migrant encampment.

Just yards over the bridge is where Hughes and her co-workers help to provide potable water filtration systems and portable toilets for the migrants who are waiting to claim asylum in the United States.

Several infrastructure projects in the works by Solidarity Engineering in Reynosa, Mexico. (Photos by Solidarity Engineering)

They have also built roofs to harvest rainwater at the nearby Senda de Vida migrant shelter, which itself is way overcapacity. The facility is unable to meet the water needs, and volunteers are helping to open additional water lines and connect to a water well so migrants can wash clothes and take showers.

The shelter was designed for 300 people, but now has over 1,000 migrants living there, Hughes said.

Hughes said Solidarity Engineering’s goal is to work with other nonprofits — like Team Brownsville, Doctors Without Borders, the Sidewalk School for Asylum Seekers, Global Response Management, and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley — to bring up the living standards for migrants south of the border.

“We’re pretty much playing catch up with all of the necessary facilities to make living there up to acceptable living standards,” said Hughes.

Volunteers and employees of Solidarity Engineering help to build infrastructure and provide drinking and bathing water for migrants in Reynosa, Mexico. (Photos by Solidarity Engineering)

At just 32, Hughes relocated from Philadelphia to help form the firm and launch this humanitarian effort. Her co-founders are Chloe Rastatter, from Colorado, and Christa Cook, from Dallas.

Together they are leading this group of engineers to oversee numerous projects. But Hughes says funds are tight.

“If you can donate anything it can really make a difference. Solidarity Engineering has done a great job of learning how to stretch a dollar,” Hughes said.

Facebook is matching donations on Giving Tuesday, a worldwide day aimed toward boosting the coffers of nonprofits. And that could help them provide a lot more comfort for migrants, many of whom are pregnant women and young children from Central America, she said.

“We essentially want to help provide water, sanitation, hygiene and just help with the asylum-seekers and their living conditions and make their lives a little bit better,” she said. “There are families with young children. There are single women with no protection.”

The group formed a year ago and first worked in the migrant encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, about 55 miles east of Reynosa. When most of those migrants were paroled and allowed to enter the United States and the camp disbanded, then hundreds of migrants began living on the streets of Reynosa. And that’s when Solidarity Engineering started crossing from McAllen into Reynosa to help.

At first, the migrants had no water or toilet facilities. Now there are 30 porta potties in the plaza. But Hughes says that is not nearly enough for 2,500 people. And there are no bathing facilities.

Several other nonprofit organizations, like Team Brownsville, and the Sidewalk School, have told Border Report of the contributions that Solidarity Engineering has made for the migrants this past year, despite a COVID-19 surge that struck the camp hard this past summer.

Hughes said they are in it for the long haul as long as the families remain on the plaza.

“If you are interested in helping refugees live a little bit more dignified life while they are forced to remain in extremely dangerous, extremely awful conditions then please consider donating,” she said.

A list of nonprofits that also help migrants in Reynosa and links to their websites are below:

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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