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DEL RIO – Five days after Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated by a group of foreign mercenaries on July 7, Stelin Jean, 29, decided to flee the country with his wife and two children, traveling to Bolivia , where many Haitians have arrived. shortly before embarking on a hard land voyage to the United States.
The family was in Panama last month when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti, destroying thousands of homes and killing more than 2,000 people. Jean said some of his relatives were injured in the quake, which only increased his sense of urgency to get to the United States.
“There are people being killed in Haiti, there is simply no justice,” said Jean, who arrived on the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday afternoon after a two-month trek through the jungles of America. from the South and then crossed the Rio Grande to Del Rio to seek asylum. “I just want to live a quiet life without problems, I want to live in a place where I know there is justice.”
The family has joined some 12,000 migrants who have arrived at the border in recent days and are now waiting under the Del Rio International Bridge, about 150 miles west of San Antonio, to be prosecuted by Customs and United States Border Protection. Most are from Haiti and seek asylum in the US
On Friday, Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano declared the local state of disaster and said the city closes tolls on the international bridge that connects the city with Ciudad Acuña to stop traffic across the bridge, as security measure.
The city later issued a statement saying “international traffic will continue as normal” and that people could be seen going back and forth to the bridge on Friday evening. But in late Friday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that the port of entry would be temporarily closed.
“This closure and temporary change is necessary for CBP to be able to respond to the urgent security needs presented by an influx of migrants to Del Rio and be effective immediately,” the agency said in a statement. “It will advance and protect national interests and help ensure the safety of the public, commercial traffic and CBP employees and facilities.”
Traffic that normally uses border bridges to Del Rio will be directed 57 miles east to Eagle Pass, federal officials said. They did not indicate how long the Del Rio closures would last.
Lozano said earlier that he had asked for help from the state to deter more immigrants from entering the city. He said the city expects an additional 8,000 migrants to arrive in the coming days.
Figures coming so quickly to Del Rio, a city of about 35,000, make local officials worried about how to feed and house thousands of immigrants who for now are forced to wait in the shadow of the bridge.
“Terrible circumstances require terrible responses,” Lozano said. “Some people have babies down there [under the bridge], there are people who fall from the heat. They are quite aggressive, rightly so: they have been warmed up day after day ”.
On Friday, in an appearance in Fort Worth, Gov. Greg Abbott said the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security have informed the state that the migrants will be relocated to Arizona, California and perhaps Laredo. “But one thing we know for sure is that there is nothing but uncertainty and indecision on the part of the Biden administration about exactly what they will do,” Abbott said.
Many of the immigrants in Del Rio said they began their journey years ago, fleeing Haiti after previous disasters such as the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Junior Pacheco, 38, said he left Haiti for Chile, where he lived for five years before heading to the Texas-Mexico border in August. He said that after arriving in Mexico, the police asked him for his passport when he got off a charter bus and never returned it.
“There are many abuses along the way. From people to the police, they steal our money, our passports. There are some people who get stuck on the road, ”he said in a telephone interview in Ciudad Acuña, where he bought food, water and a tent so his family could have a place to sleep.
“Things are quiet now, we just wanted to get here,” he said. “We are no longer afraid.”
Migrants who fled to South America say the crossing to the north was treacherous, with criminals and vendors taking advantage of vulnerable migrants. Videos widely shared on social media in recent weeks show that the Mexican military is using force while trying to prevent Haitians from crossing the country’s border with Guatemala.
On Thursday, hundreds of immigrants crossed the Gran River between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña, carrying children on their shoulders, carrying water bottles on their heads and picking up cardboard for sleeping.
Eduardo Vargas, 27, said he arrived in Del Rio on Tuesday from his native Chile with his 8-month-old daughter and wife to seek asylum. He said he left Chile because he could not find work to support his family.
Like the others waiting under the bridge, he said he received a ticket from U.S. officials and expects his number to be called so he can apply for asylum.
He said that by the time his family has been to Del Rio, he and other migrants have routinely crossed the shallow Rio Grande to buy food and water in Ciudad Acuña. They have been sleeping on the ground under the bridge and bathing and washing clothes in the river, he said.
“We want to get out of here,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of money to buy food and we don’t eat well or drink much water. We are hungry. “
Tomas Jean, 49, left his wife and son in Haiti and, if he is able to start a new life in the United States, said he plans to bring his family. He said he left because of the political turmoil in Haiti.
“There are a lot of problems in Haiti, which is why many Haitians are leaving because they are looking for a better life,” he said.
He said he began his journey with money, legal papers and other personal items. When he arrived in Del Rio, he said, he only had his passport and enough money to buy deodorant in Ciudad Acuña, where he was also looking for cardboard.
“There were a lot of problems coming through South America, there were criminals, the police and immigration,” he said. “The thieves demanded my money and also took a lot of paperwork from me.”
Tiffany Burrow, director of operations at the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition breathing center, said that once the thousands of immigrants waiting under the bridge are released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the coalition will not have space or resources to help them all.
“We have run out of simple things, like juice boxes, but there will be people in the community who will ask us what we need and we can [get more], “she said.” But can we get 10,000? Probably not. “
Jordan Vonderhaar and James Barragán contributed to this story.
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