US authorities accelerate removal of Haitians at border with Mexico

Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. walk in the Rio Grande river to cross into the U.S. near the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S. in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, on Saturday.

Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. walk in the Rio Grande river to cross into the U.S. near the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S. in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, on Saturday. (Reuters)


7 photos

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

CIUDAD ACUÑA, Mexico — U.S. authorities moved some 2,000 people to other immigration processing stations on Friday from a Texas border town that has been overwhelmed by an influx of Haitian and other migrants, the Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday.

Such transfers will continue "in order to ensure that irregular migrants are swiftly taken into custody, processed, and removed from the United States consistent with our laws and policy," the department said in a statement.

While some migrants seeking jobs and safety have been making their way to the United States for weeks or months, it is only in recent days that the number converging on Del Rio, Texas, has drawn widespread attention, posing a humanitarian and political challenge for the Biden administration.

Department of Homeland Security said that in response to the more than 10,000 migrants sheltering in increasingly poor conditions under the Del Rio International Bridge that connects the Texas city with Ciudad Acuña in Mexico, it was accelerating flights to Haiti and other destinations within the next 72 hours.

It was working with nations where the migrants began their journeys — for many of the Haitians, countries such as Brazil and Chile — to accept returned migrants. Officials on both sides of the border said the majority of the migrants were Haitians.

Department of Homeland Security said U.S. Customs and Border Protection was sending 400 additional agents to the Del Rio sector in the coming days, after the border agency said on Friday that due to the influx it was temporarily closing Del Rio's port of entry and re-routing traffic to Eagle Pass, 57 miles east.

"We have reiterated that our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey," a DHS spokesperson told Reuters.

Del Rio's mayor, Bruno Lozano, said in a video on Saturday night that there were now just over 14,000 migrants under the bridge.

As it became clear U.S. authorities were sending migrants back to homelands beyond Mexico, Mexican police officers began asking migrants who were buying food in Ciudad Acuña to return to the United States side of the river on Saturday morning, witnesses told Reuters. The migrants argued they needed supplies, and police eventually relented.

Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. walk in the Rio Grande river near the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S., as they wait to be processed, in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, Saturday. Migrants cross back and forth into Mexico to buy food and supplies.
Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. walk in the Rio Grande river near the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S., as they wait to be processed, in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, Saturday. Migrants cross back and forth into Mexico to buy food and supplies. (Photo: Go Nakamura, Reuters)

Poor conditions

On the Texas side, Haitians have been joined by Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans under the Del Rio bridge.

"There is urine, feces and we are sleeping next to garbage," said Michael Vargas, 30, who has been at the camp with his wife and two children for three days.

Vargas, who is Venezuelan, said they had been given ticket number 16,000 and authorities were currently processing number 9,800. He said people were being separated into three groups: single men, single women and families.

Jeff Jeune, a 27-year-old Haitian, was among several migrants who said it was taking longer to process families than single adults, leaving young children sleeping on the ground in clobbering 99 degree Fahrenheit heat. Jeune said his two sons, ages 1 and 10, had fallen ill with a fever and cold-like symptoms.

In two photos sent to Reuters by a migrant at the camp, dozens of adults and children are shown squeezed together under the bridge, some sitting on cardboard or thin blankets spread on the packed dirt. Belongings were stacked in neat piles. There appear to be tents made of reeds and wooden sticks in the background.

Typically, migrants who arrive at the border and turn themselves in to officials can claim asylum if they fear being returned to their home country, triggering a long court process. The Trump administration whittled away at protections, arguing many asylum claims were false.

A sweeping U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health order known as Title 42, issued under the Trump administration at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, allows most migrants to be quickly expelled without a chance of claiming asylum. President Joe Biden has kept that rule in place though he exempted unaccompanied minors and his administration has not been expelling most families.

A judge ruled Thursday the policy could not be applied to families, but the ruling does not go into effect for two weeks and the Biden administration is appealing it in court.

A mass expulsion of Haitians at Del Rio is sure to anger immigration advocates who say such returns are inhumane considering the conditions in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. In July, Haiti's president was assassinated, and in August a major earthquake and powerful storm hit the country.

The Biden administration extended temporary deportation relief to around 150,000 Haitians in the United States earlier this year. That relief does not apply to new arrivals. Deportation and expulsion differ technically - expulsion is much quicker.

U.S. officials briefly halted removals to Haiti following the Aug. 14 earthquake.

The number of Haitian migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has been steadily rising this year along with an overall increase in migrants, according to CBP data.

Many of the Haitians interviewed by Reuters said they used to live in South America and were headed north now because they could not obtain legal status or struggled to secure decent jobs. Several told Reuters they followed routes shared on WhatsApp to reach Del Rio.

More than a dozen Haitians in southern Mexico's Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, told Reuters on Friday that messages in WhatsApp groups spread lies about the ease of crossing the border.

Photos

Related Links

Related Stories

Alexandra Ulmer
    Kristina Cooke

      SIGN UP FOR THE KSL.COM NEWSLETTER

      Catch up on the top news and features from KSL.com, sent weekly.
      By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

      KSL Weather Forecast