Eric Gay / AP
DEL RIO, Texas – A US official said the Biden administration was planning “massive movements” of Haitian migrants to a small town on the Texas border on flights to Haiti starting Sunday.
Plans have yet to be finalized, but authorities are planning five to eight flights a day. San Antonio, the nearest large city, may be one of the departure cities. The official was not allowed to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The flights represent a swift and dramatic response to the thousands of Haitian migrants who have gathered under or around a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
The United States has deported scores of Central Americans to Mexico under a pandemic-related authority that denies migrants the opportunity to seek asylum. But the Mexican authorities will not accept Haitians and other nationalities.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it has closed two-way vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the Del Rio Bridge.
Thousands of Haitian migrants had gathered under and around the bridge in the small Texas border town as the chaos unfolded on Friday and presented the Biden administration with a new challenge as it attempts to deal with large numbers of asylum seekers who have reached American soil.
Haitians crossed the Rio Grande freely and in a steady stream, back and forth between the United States and Mexico in knee-deep water, with some parents carrying young children on their shoulders. Unable to obtain supplies from the United States, they briefly returned to Mexico to collect food and cardboard to settle, at least temporarily, under or near the bridge in Del Rio, a city of 35,000 that was severely strained by the flow of migrants in recent months.
The migrants pitched tents and built makeshift shelters from giant reeds known as the carrizo cane. Many bathed and washed clothes in the river.
The vast majority of the estimated 12,000 migrants on the bridge on Friday were Haitians, said Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, who is the county’s top elected official and whose jurisdiction includes Del Rio. Some families have been under the bridge for six days.
The garbage piles were 3.1 meters wide and at least two women gave birth, including one who tested positive for COVID-19 after being taken to hospital, Owens said.
Haitians have migrated to the United States in large numbers from South America for several years, many of them leaving the Caribbean nation after a devastating earthquake in 2010. After jobs have since dried up The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, many made the trek, bus and car ride to the US border, including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
It is not known how so many amassed so quickly, although many Haitians have gathered in camps on the Mexican side of the border, including in Tijuana, across from San Diego, to wait before deciding. whether or not to attempt to enter the United States.
The Federal Aviation Administration, acting at the request of a border patrol, has restricted drone flights around the bridge until September 30, generally prohibiting operations at 305 meters or less, except for security or enforcement reasons. of the law.
Some Haitians in the camp have lived in Mexican towns on the U.S. border for some time, moving between them often, while others have recently arrived after being stranded near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, said Nicole Phillips, legal director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance advocacy group. . A sense of desperation spread after the Biden administration ended its practice of daily admitting asylum-seeking migrants deemed particularly vulnerable.
“People are panicking about the way they seek refuge,” Phillips said.
Edgar Rodríguez, lawyer for the Casa del Migrante migrant shelter in Piedras Negras, north of Del Rio, noticed an increase in the number of Haitians in the area two or three weeks ago and believes disinformation may have played a role . Migrants often make decisions on false rumors that policies are about to change and that enforcement policies vary from city to city.
U.S. authorities are under strain after President Joe Biden quickly dismantled Trump administration policies Biden considered cruel or inhumane, including requiring asylum seekers to stay in Mexico pending court hearings American Immigration. These migrants have been exposed to extreme violence in Mexico and have encountered extraordinary difficulties in finding lawyers.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a judge’s order to restore the policy to stand, although Mexico must agree to its terms. The Justice Department said in a court file this week that discussions with the Mexican government were ongoing.
A pandemic-related order to immediately deport migrants 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 exempted. During his first month in office, Biden chose to exempt children traveling alone for humanitarian reasons.
The US government has been unable to deport many families from Central America because Mexican authorities have largely refused to accept them in Tamaulipas state, located across the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, the most frequented for illegal crossings. A federal judge in Washington on Thursday barred the administration from applying Title 42, as the authority related to the pandemic is known, to all families.
Mexico has agreed to only accept families deported from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, creating an opening for Haitians and other nationalities as the United States does not have the necessary resources. to detain and expel them quickly on flights to their country of origin.
In August, US authorities arrested migrants nearly 209,000 times at the border, which was near a 20-year high, even though many stops involved repeat transgressors as there are no legal consequences to be deported under the authority of Title 42.
People crossing as a family were arrested 86,487 times in August, but less than one in five encounters resulted in a Title 42 deportation. The rest were treated under immigration laws, which resulted in usually means they were released with a court date or notice. report to immigration authorities.
US authorities arrested Haitians 7,580 times in August, a figure that has increased every month since August 2020, when they arrested only 55. There has also been a significant increase in the number of Ecuadorians, Venezuelans and other nationalities outside the traditional countries of origin of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. and El Salvador.
Immigration judges have ruled on more than 32,000 Haitian asylum-seeking cases since 2001, dismissing applications about 80 percent of the time, according to data compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.