January 15, 2020 at 12:30 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
DC boy volunteers at Mexico migrant camp
Reuven Magder after he served food to migrants who are living in a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, on Jan. 12, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A D.C. boy traveled to the Mexican border city of Matamoros this week to help migrants who are living in a camp.

Reuven Magder, 12, along with his father, Dan Magder, on Sunday were among a group from Adas Israel Congregation in Cleveland Park who traveled to Matamoros with Team Brownsville, a group in Brownsville, Texas, that cooks food for the camp’s residents and provides them with sleeping bags and other items.

The Magders and other Team Brownsville volunteers served rice, beans, chicken and juice from a nearby restaurant to hundreds of migrants. The Magders on Tuesday also erect a tent for two families from Honduras and Ecuador who moved into the camp.

The Mexican authorities have built a dome over the area in which the Magders were working in order to provide migrants who are living in tents some protection from the elements. Resource Center Matamoros, a group co-founded by Gaby Zavala, a community organizer who lives in Brownsville, works with Mexican officials when new migrants arrive at the camp and provides them with clothes and other supplies they need.

Reuven Magder volunteers in a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, on Jan. 14, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Reuven on Sunday told the Washington Blade he decided to help migrants for his bar mitzvah project.

He created a fundraiser that raised several thousand dollars for Team Brownsville. Michael Benavides, a gay man who lives in Brownsville with his husband, co-founded Team Brownsville.

“I can do anything that does good in the world,” Reuven told the Blade. “I wanted to do something that was related to immigrants.”

Many of the more than 2,000 people who are currently living in the camp have asked for asylum in the U.S. The Trump administration has forced them to await the outcome of their cases in Mexico under its controversial “remain in Mexico” program.

A travel advisory the State Department issued last month urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Mexico’s Tamaulipas state in which Matamoros is located because of “crime and kidnapping.” The advisory also notes U.S. government employees “may only travel within a limited radius” between the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros and “their respective U.S. ports of entry” and they “must observe” a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew.

“Organized crime activity — including gun battles, murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, forced disappearances, extortion and sexual assault — is common along the northern border and in Ciudad Victoria,” reads the advisory, which refers to Tamaulipas’ capital.

Upwards of 2,500 migrants live in a migrant camp at the base of the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico. Many of these migrants have been returned to Mexico under the Trump administration’s ‘remain in Mexico’ program in order to await the outcome of their asylum cases. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Activists on both sides of the border with whom the Blade has spoken say the camp’s LGBTQ residents remain disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination and violence based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. They also said reports of sexual violence against LGBTQ migrants are commonplace.

“Kids and adults hear in the news about asylum seekers, refugees, camps — it’s hard to have any sense of it — for him and for all of the adults who went on the trip,” Dan Magder told the Blade on Tuesday after he and his son returned to D.C. “So, we went, and he saw it up close and personal.”

“He saw how people are living in tents, with almost nothing,” he added.

Reuven Magder and his father, Dan Magder, at a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, on Jan. 14, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Dan Magder said his son told him he thinks up to 10 of the camp’s residents could live in his bedroom. Dan Magder also said Reuven asked whether his parents could sponsor one of the migrant families.

“He wants to do it for one of the kids he was playing with,” said Dan Magder.

“What he saw will change the way he understands the world, the way he listens to the news, the way he relates to big policy issues on immigration and direct policy issues like migrant camps and conditions,” he added.

Reuven described conditions in the camp as “not great,” but added “it’s good that people are helping.”

“Hopefully it will help,” he said.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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