Numbers game at the Brownsville border

The Guardian reports from the southern side of the Gateway International Bridge separating Brownsville, Texas, from Matamoros, Mexico. “A mysterious set of documents known collectively as “La Lista” holds enormous power over hundreds of migrants stranded outside a tiny immigration office. On that list is a number assigned by Mexican authorities that determines if migrants pass through or stay behind, prosper or have journeyed in vain, or in the case of Martinez and his daughter Valeria, risk their lives trying to circumvent its order.

Nowadays at Matamoros, like at other main border crossings, an American official will call across the bridge and tell their Mexican counterparts how many migrants the Americans are willing to interview for asylum that day, and in what form – families, or single men or women – in a process known as metering. How the Americans choose that number is anyone’s guess, people say. The Mexican official in charge of the lists then calls out a person’s number. For those chosen, it’s like winning a lottery. But the reasoning behind the Mexican process is even more of an enigma.

In the past several weeks, as more and more migrants arrive, the number of people called has dwindled to just four or five a week – coinciding with Donald Trump’s threat to impose tariffs if Mexico did not control the surge of migrants. On Friday, since Sunday, there had been zero people called. For those camped out, waiting to enter the country legally, some for as long as four months, the numbers and how they are chosen has become a kind of obsession, as if a divine hand is orchestrating this random and maddening system.

“People here, we talk about one thing,” says Guevara. “Our numbers and if we’re going to cross.”

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