‘Oh Mercy’: Short film sheds light on plight of migrants at Matamoros tent encampment

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A 3-minute preview of the short film “Oh Mercy” was released Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. The film features the 600 migrants who live in an outdoor tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas. (Courtesy Photo)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Humanitarian groups globally praised Tuesday’s preview of an upcoming short online film about the migrants living in a border tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico.

The three-minute trailer of the upcoming 10-minute film “Oh Mercy,” directed by and produced by Academy-Award nominated director Robert Bilheimer was released online Tuesday afternoon. Bilheimer took part in an hour-long Zoom panel discussion along with Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley who oversees volunteer efforts at the camp that is located across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.

Pimentel is featured in the film along with two other aid workers. The full film, which is being produced by Worldwide Documentaries, is scheduled to be released later this fall. It is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Glenn Close and features music by Bruce Springsteen.

“What really touches me is I believe when I see the film is I see myself and the experiences I feel and it touches very deeply the pain I feel every time I’m there with the families and the film brings that out and I’m present there again,” Pimentel said Tuesday. “I hope everyone sees what I see and feels what I feel.”

Sister Norma Pimentel, a Catholic nun from South Texas who oversees volunteer efforts to help migrants living in a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, during an hour-long discussion after a preview of the film was released. (Online photo)

“Our job is to humanize what she is seeing and what everyone experiences,” Bilheimer said. “There are so many heroic stories and by nature they are inspiring. Our job is really quite simple: We just have to cast the net as wide as possible and make sure as many people see this work and inspiring work that Sister Norma an others are doing. And I think we’re well on our way.”

Bilheimer said “thousands of thousands of Facebook postings” have appeared since the online link was released.

He spoke with Border Report last month, shortly after coming to South Texas for several days to interview Pimentel and other volunteers who help the 600 migrants who live at the tent encampment where they are forced to remain under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, also known as remain in Mexico policy, during their U.S. immigration court proceedings.

He said he made the film after speaking with Pimentel, who told him about the camp conditions. “She said, ‘Bob it’s really going bad, people are getting desperate, people are jumping in the river, it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ we can’t wait. Nobody is visiting. We can’t wait until January. We need to do something now and not wait for the election and can you come?'”

Bilheimer said that after speaking with Pimentel, he secured a $15,000 donation and flew to South Texas.

The film begins with original music by Springsteen set to his song “Matamoros Banks.”

“Every year there’s hundreds of people who die just trying to come across our southern border,” Springsteen says. “And they die of dehydration in the desert and they die trying to cross the river. It’s all just to come here. The risk of life. It’s senseless. It’s senseless. We really need a human immigration policy.”

The film shows the iconic images of a father and his toddler daughter who died trying to swim across from Matamoros to Brownsville.

Pimentel, who last month was named among Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020, was interviewed in South Texas just weeks before she made the magazine’s esteemed list of global leaders. She said she contributed to the film as a way to help tell the world what is happening in Matamoros in the tent encampment, which is plagued by mosquitoes, rats and venomous snakes and where migrants have lived through a hurricane, freezing temperatures and triple-digit heat.

Migrants are seen on Jan. 28, 2020, at the tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“Are we really people who truly care about humanity?” she said. “It’s as if they are invisible to us and nothing is happening. It falls on deaf ears. They have been there over a year.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Trump administration has shuttered immigration court hearings and closed the Southwest and northwest border to travel and to incoming migrants.

There used to be 3,000 migrants living in the tent encampment in Matamoros, but now there are about 600, says Pimentel, who is allowed to enter with a special ID and who is screened each time by Mexican officials who guard the camp entrance.

No new migrants are allowed to settle in the camp and she said on Tuesday she believes the camp’s numbers will eventually disappear altogether.

“I don’t see this camp in Matamoros for much longer if it continues like this,” she said.

On Tuesday, she called on the American Red Cross to help the migrants, and for “a plan of action” for immigration reform that would enable the migrants to live and wait in the United States under the care of organizations, like the Red Cross, while their asylum appeals are being reviewed.

Particularly impacted are the hundreds of children in the camp, said Dr. Susan Bissell, former Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF, who lives in Canada.

“There are plenty of things that can and should be done for children and families and that’s what attracted me to Bob’s portrayal, which is showing some recognition of the people there,” Bissell said about Bilheimer’s film. “This is why Sister Norma’s involvement with this film ‘Oh Mercy’ is so important for people to care again and realize what’s happening.”

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