There were no migrants left in the Texas border camp on Friday, where nearly 15,000 people, most of them Haitians, had converged a few days earlier seeking asylum, local and federal officials said.
It’s a dramatic change from last Saturday, when the number peaked when migrants driven by confusion over the Biden administration’s policies and misinformation on social media converged at the border crossing connecting Del Rio, Texas. and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.
At a press conference, Del Rio Mayor Buno Lozano called it “phenomenal news.”
Many face expulsion because they are not covered by the protections recently extended by the Biden administration to the more than 100,000 Haitian migrants already in the US, citing security concerns and social unrest in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. . The devastating 2010 earthquake forced many of them to leave their homeland.
The United States and Mexico appeared eager to end the increasingly politicized humanitarian situation that prompted the resignation of the United States special envoy to Haiti and widespread outrage after images emerged of border agents maneuvering their horses to block and transfer the migrants by force.
On Friday, President Joe Biden said the way officers used their horses was “horrible” and that “people will pay” as a result. The agents have been assigned to administrative duties while the administration investigates.
“There will be consequences,” Biden told reporters. “It is a shame, but it goes beyond a shame: it is dangerous, it is wrong, it sends the wrong message to everyone and it sends the wrong message home. It’s just not who we are. ”
Subsequently, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, spoke cautiously about the pending investigation into the use of horses. When asked about the discrepancy, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden “was not prejudging an outcome. He spoke from the heart. “She said he is not interfering with any investigation.
Mayorkas said some 2,000 Haitians have been swiftly evicted on 17 flights since Sunday and more could be expelled in the coming days under pandemic powers that deny people the opportunity to apply for asylum.
He said the United States has allowed about 12,400 to enter the country, at least temporarily, while making claims before an immigration judge to stay in the country under asylum laws or for some other legal reason. Ultimately, they could be denied and be subject to removal.
Mayorkas said that around 5,000 are in DHS custody and are being processed to determine whether they will be expelled or allowed to submit their legal residency claim. Some returned to Mexico.
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A US official with direct knowledge of the situation said that six flights were scheduled to Haiti on Friday, seven planned for Saturday and six for Sunday, although that was subject to change. The official was not authorized to speak in public.
In Mexico, just over 100 migrants, most of them single men, remained at the Ciudad Acuña riverside camp on Friday morning.
Dozens of families who had been there crossed back into Del Rio overnight after Mexican authorities left the area. With the river running higher, some Border Patrol agents helped families who were having difficulty crossing with children.
Some migrants also moved to small hotels or private homes in Ciudad Acuña. Authorities detained six migrants at one on Thursday afternoon.
Luxon, a 31-year-old migrant from Haiti who hid his last name out of fear, said he was leaving with his wife and son for Mexicali, about 900 miles west along the Mexico-California border.
“The option was to go to a place where there are not many people and there ask for documents to be legal in Mexico,” he said.
When asked about the situation in Ciudad Acuña on Friday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said: “We don’t want Mexico to be a migrant camp, we want the problem to be fully addressed.”
At the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition in Del Rio, migrants got out of a white Border Patrol van on Friday, many smiling and looking relieved to have been released into the United States. Some carried sleeping babies. A small boy walked behind his mother wrapped in a silver thermal blanket.
A man who had driven nearly 1,500 miles from Toledo, Ohio, hoping to pick up a friend and his family, wore a neon yellow vest and was quietly scanning the line of Haitian migrants. Dave, who did not want to share his last name, did not see them in this group.
“I feel like my friend is worth my time to come and help,” he said, explaining that he wore the vest so that his friend, a nurse whom he had met on a humanitarian trip to Haiti more than a decade ago, could see him outside between the crowd when she arrived with her husband and 3 year old daughter.
“I just see it as an opportunity to serve someone,” said Dave, who considers himself a Trump supporter but hates how politicized the immigration issue has become. “We have so much.”
Lozano, the mayor of Del Rio, said the international bridge will not reopen until Sunday night at the earliest, while officials make sure no one is hiding in the brush along the Rio Grande and that finish cleaning. Officials also want to make sure there are no other large groups of migrants heading to the Del Rio area who may decide to set up a similar camp, he said.
Lozano said there were no deaths during the time the camp was occupied and that 10 babies were born to migrant mothers, either at the camp or at the Del Rio hospital.
“An urban village on this scale was needed to help prevent any loss of life and welcome the births of children here,” Lozano said.
The government has no plans to stop expelling some migrants for public health reasons despite pressure from Democratic lawmakers, who say Haitian migrants are being sent back to a troubled country that some left more than a year ago. decade.
The Trump administration enacted the policy, called Title 42, in March 2020 to justify restrictive immigration policies in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Biden administration has used it to justify the deportation of Haitian migrants.
A federal judge late last week ruled the rule incorrect and gave the government two weeks to stop it, but the Biden administration appealed.
Officials said the US State Department is in talks with Brazil and Chile to allow some Haitians who previously resided there to return, but it is complicated because some of them no longer have legal status there.
The Biden administration’s special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, submitted a resignation letter on Thursday protesting the large-scale “inhumane” expulsions of Haitian migrants.
Foote, who was appointed in July, wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, saying he would resign immediately “with deep disappointment and apologies to those seeking crucial change,” and said that some of his policy recommendations had been ignored.
State Department spokesman Ned Price questioned Foote’s claims, saying his proposals had been “considered in their entirety in a rigorous and transparent policy process.”
The humanitarian group UNICEF also condemned the expulsions, saying on Thursday that initial estimates show that more than two out of three migrants expelled to Haiti are women and children, including newborns.
“Haiti is recovering from the triple tragedy of natural disasters, gang violence and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, who said that those who return without adequate protection “are still most vulnerable to violence, poverty and displacement – factors that led them to migrate in the first place. ”
And civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton, who toured the camp Thursday, vowed to “support our people and make sure the asylum is treated one way or the other.”