Eric Gay / AP
DEL RIO, Texas – Haitian migrants who want to escape poverty, hunger and a sense of hopelessness in their home country said they will not be deterred by U.S. plans to return them quickly, as thousands they remained encamped on the Texas border Saturday after crossing Mexico.
A lot of people passed by the Rio Grande on Saturday afternoon and re-entered Mexico to buy water, food and diapers in Ciudad Acuña before returning to the Texas camp under and near a bridge in the border town of Del Rio.
Junior Jean, a 32-year-old man from Haiti, watched as people cautiously carried cases of water or bags of food down the river. Jean said he has lived on the streets in Chile for the past four years, giving up looking for food in the trash.
“We’re all looking for a better life,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security said Saturday it moved about 2,000 of the migrants from the camp to other locations on Friday for processing and possible withdrawal from the U.S. more if necessary.
The announcement was a quick response to the sudden arrival of Haitians in Del Rio, a city in Texas, with about 35,000 people, about 230 miles west of San Antonio. It is located in a relatively remote stretch of border that does not have the capacity to contain and process such a large number of people.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Friday that the U.S. would likely fly migrants from the country between five and eight flights a day, starting Sunday, while another official did not expect more than two a day and went say everyone would pass the COVID -19 test. The first official said Haiti’s operational capacity and willingness to accept flights would determine how many flights there would be. The two officials were not allowed to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to U.S. plans on Saturday, several migrants said they still intended to stay in the camp and seek asylum. Some spoke of the most recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, saying they feared returning to a country that seems more unstable than when they left.
“There is no security in Haiti,” said Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian who arrived with his wife and two daughters. “The country is in a political crisis.”
Haitians have been migrating to the United States in large numbers from South America for several years, many of whom have left their Caribbean nation after a devastating 2010 earthquake. In the summer of 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, many made the dangerous walk, bus and car walk to the American border, even through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
Jorge Luis Mora Castillo, 48, of Cuba, said he arrived in Acuna on Saturday and also planned to cross into the United States. American nation where they had lived for four years.
Speaking of the U.S. message discouraging migrants, Castillo said he would not change his mind.
“Because going back to Cuba is dying,” he said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed vehicular and pedestrian traffic in both directions on Friday at the only border crossing between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña “to respond to urgent security needs” and remained closed on Saturday. Travelers were headed indefinitely to a junction at Eagle Pass, about 90 miles away.
Crowd estimates varied, but Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said Saturday evening there were 14,534 immigrants in the camp under the bridge. Migrants set up tents and built makeshift shelters out of giant reeds known as reed reeds. Many bathed and washed clothes in the river.
It is unclear how such a large number accumulated so quickly, although many Haitians have gathered in camps on the Mexican side of the border to wait as they decide whether to try to enter the United States.
The number of Haitian arrivals began to reach unsustainable levels for the border patrol in Del Rio about 2 and a half weeks ago, prompting the agency’s acting head of the sector, Robert Garcia, to call for help. his, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Since then, the agency has moved Haitians by bus and van to other border patrol facilities in Texas, specifically in El Paso, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. Most are processed outside of pandemic-related authority, meaning they can seek asylum and remain in the United States while their claims are considered. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the United States makes a custody decision, but families cannot generally be detained for more than 20 days by court order.
The National Security plan announced on Saturday marks a change in the use of the pandemic-related authority for immediate expulsion to Haiti without the opportunity to claim asylum, the official said.
The flight plan, although potentially massive in scale, depends on the response of Haitians. They may have to decide whether to remain in danger of being returned to an impoverished homeland devastated by poverty and political instability or to return to Mexico. Unaccompanied children are exempt from rapid expulsions.
DHS said, “Our borders are not open and people should not make the dangerous journey.”
“Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including deportation,” the agency wrote. “Irregular migration poses a significant threat to the health and well-being of border communities and to the lives of migrants themselves, and should not be attempted.”
U.S. authorities are being severely tested after Democratic President Joe Biden quickly dismantled the Trump administration’s policies that Biden considered cruel or inhumane, especially one that requires asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while await U.S. court hearings.
A pandemic-related order to immediately expel immigrants without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum that was introduced in March 2020 remains in place, but unaccompanied children and many families have been exempt. During his first month in office, Biden chose to exempt children traveling alone for humanitarian reasons.
Nicole Phillips, legal director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance advocacy group, said Saturday that the U.S. government should prosecute migrants and allow them to seek asylum, not rush to expel them.
“It’s really a humanitarian crisis,” Phillips said. “There has to be a lot of help now.”
Mexico’s immigration agency said in a statement Saturday that Mexico has opened a “permanent dialogue” with representatives of the Haitian government “to address the situation of irregular migratory flows during its entry and transit through Mexico, as well as his assisted return “.
The agency did not specify whether it was referring to Haitians in Ciudad Acuña or the thousands of others in Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala, and the agency did not immediately respond to a request for more details.
In August, U.S. authorities stopped migrants nearly 209,000 times at the border, which was close to a maximum of 20 years, although many of the stops involved repeated cruises because there are no legal consequences for having been expelled under the authority of the pandemic.