US authorities moved about 2,000 people to other immigration processing stations on Friday from a Texas border city that has been overwhelmed by an influx of Haitians and other migrants, the Department of Homeland Security said Saturday.
Such transfers will continue “to ensure that irregular migrants are quickly detained, processed and removed from the United States in accordance with our laws and policies,” DHS said in a statement.
While some migrants in search of work and safety have been traveling 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 challenge and political for the United States. Biden Administration.
DHS said that in response to migrants sheltering in increasingly precarious conditions under the Del Rio International Bridge that connects Texas City with Ciudad Acuña in Mexico, it was speeding up flights to Haiti and other destinations in the next 72 hours. .
DHS added that it was working with the nations where the migrants began their travels, for many of the Haitians, countries like Brazil and Chile, to accept the returned migrants. Officials on both sides of the border said most of the migrants were Haitians.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry expressed his solidarity with the mass of migrants at the border in a series of social media posts Saturday night, saying that “arrangements have already been made” to warmly welcome those who return to the Caribbean nation.
“I share your suffering and I say welcome home,” he wrote.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office will dispatch an additional 400 agents to the Del Rio sector in the coming days, DHS said, after the border agency said Friday that due to the influx it was temporarily closing the port of Del Rio entrance and diverting traffic to Eagle Pass, 57 miles (92 km) east.
“We have reiterated that our borders are not open and that people should not make the dangerous journey,” a DHS spokesman told Reuters.
Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said in a video Saturday night that there were now just over 14,000 migrants under the bridge.
When it became clear that US authorities were sending migrants back to their home countries, Mexican police began asking migrants buying food in Ciudad Acuña to return to the US side of the river on Saturday morning, according to Reuters witnesses. . The migrants argued that they needed supplies and the police eventually relented.
‘Sleeping next to the garbage’
On the Texas side, Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans have joined Haitians under the Rio bridge, where migrants say conditions are deteriorating.
“There is urine, feces and we are sleeping next to the garbage,” said Venezuelan migrant Michael Vargas, 30, who has been in the camp with his wife and two children for three days.
Vargas said they had been given ticket number 16,000 and authorities were processing ticket number 9,800. He said that people were being separated into three groups: single men, single women, and families.
Jeff Jeune, a 27-year-old Haitian, was one of several migrants who said families were taking longer to process than single adults, leaving young children sleeping on the ground in 99-degree heat. Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). Jeune said her two sons, ages 1 and 10, had come down 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 under the bridge, some sitting on cardboard or thin blankets spread out on the packed earth. The 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 surrender to officials can apply for asylum if they fear being returned to their home country, triggering a lengthy judicial process. The Trump administration lowered protections, arguing that many asylum claims were false.
A public health order from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention known as Title 42, issued under the Trump administration at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, allows most migrants to be expelled. quickly without the possibility of applying for 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 that the policy could not apply to families, but the ruling will not go into effect for two weeks and the Biden administration is appealing it in court.
Growing number of migrants at the border
A mass expulsion of Haitians in Del Rio is sure to infuriate immigration advocates who say such returns are inhumane considering conditions in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. In July, the president of Haiti was assassinated and in August a major earthquake and a powerful storm hit the country.
The Biden administration extended temporary deportation relief to about 150,000 Haitians in the United States earlier this year. That relief doesn’t apply to newcomers. Deportation and removal differ technically: removal is much faster.
US officials briefly halted moves to Haiti after the August 14 earthquake.
The number of Haitian migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has risen steadily this year along with an overall increase in migrants, according to CBP data.
Many of the Haitians interviewed by Reuters said that they used to live in South America and are now heading north because they could not obtain legal status or were struggling to get decent jobs. Several told Reuters they followed shared routes on WhatsApp to reach Del Rio.
More than a dozen Haitians in Tapachula, southern Mexico, near the border with Guatemala, told Reuters on Friday that messages on WhatsApp groups spread lies about the ease of crossing the border.