DEL RIO, Texas – Thousands of Haitian migrants who have crossed the Rio Grande River in the past few days sleep outside under a border bridge in South Texas, creating a humanitarian emergency and logistical challenge that U.S. agents describe as without previous.
Authorities in Del Rio, Texas say more than 8,000 migrants have arrived at the impromptu camp and thousands more are expected in the coming days. Images from the bridge site show dense crowds, including families and young children, and deteriorating sanitary conditions.
The sudden influx presented President Joe Biden’s administration with a new border emergency at a time when illegal border crossings have peaked in 20 years and homeland security officials are scrambling to welcome and resettle more of 60,000 Afghan evacuees.
The migrants arriving in Del Rio appear to be part of a larger wave of Haitians heading north, many of whom arrived in Brazil and other countries in South America after the 2010 earthquake. are on the move again, embarking on a grueling and dangerous journey to the United States with smuggler organizations handling the journey, according to border officials and refugee groups.
More than 29,000 Haitians have arrived in the past 11 months, according to the latest customs and border protection figures, including some from mixed families whose children were born in Brazil, Chile or other countries of the world. ‘South America.
They roamed the jungles of Darien Gap in Panama, navigated migrant camps and criminal gangs in Central America, and dodged border guards and troops along highways in southern Mexico. Many say the economic toll of the pandemic prompted them to leave, while others say a more welcoming US administration gave them a fleeting opportunity to reach the United States.
The Biden administration reduced deportation flights to Haiti after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on August 14 that killed more than 2,000 people. And the Department of Homeland Security has extended eligibility for temporary protected status for Haitians, a measure that allows Haitians living in the United States without legal status to qualify for temporary residence and avoid deportation.
It is not clear how many more could arrive in the next few days. Customs and border protection are working to send additional officers to Del Rio to help process migrants, assigning them numbers as they line up to be formally apprehended, the first step in a request for asylum or some other form of American protection. Most migrants are likely to be released in the United States with notice to appear in court at a later date.
“The Border Patrol is increasing its strength in the Del Rio area and coordinating efforts within the Department of Homeland Security and other relevant federal, state and local partners to immediately address the current level of encounters with migrants and to facilitate a safe, humane and orderly process, “the Customs and Border Protection Service said in a statement. “To avoid injury from heat-related illnesses, the shaded area under the Del Rio International Bridge serves as a temporary staging site while migrants wait to be placed in USBP custody.”
US agents say some migrants are fording the river to Mexico to buy meals and supplies, and street vendors from Mexico have also moved to sell food inside the camp.
The agency said it was providing clean water, towels and other supplies to the site, but an agent from the Del Rio area said sanitary conditions were poor. There are 20 portable toilets at the site, according to Jon Anfinsen, the top union official for border patrols in the Del Rio area.
“We are trying to bring all the resources we can, but it is a logistical nightmare,” he said. “We are bringing in officers from across the country to help, but they won’t be here today, and we’re just trying to keep our heads above water.”
“Many agents are mothers and fathers, and seeing children in this situation is sad for everyone,” he said. “Morale is horrible.”
The Biden administration said it would continue to use its emergency authorities under Title 42 of the US Public Health Code to quickly return or “deport” migrants. But Mexican authorities have refused to take back the Haitians in recent months.
The Biden administration is also grappling with a slew of new court orders regarding its border policies.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled on Thursday that the U.S. government must stop using a Trump-era public health order to quickly deport migrants with children apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Sullivan has given the government two weeks to end a practice that opponents deem unnecessary and wrongly relies on the threat posed by covid-19 to deny people their right to seek asylum in the United States.
Sullivan granted a preliminary injunction in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others on behalf of migrant families, saying they would likely succeed in challenging the use of the public health law known as Title 42.
“President Biden should have ended this cruel and lawless policy a long time ago, and the court was right to reject it today,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project .
The Supreme Court also said last month that the Biden administration must restart a Trump administration program that requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims are tried in U.S. courts.
“WORSE THAN THE WORST CASE”
The Del Rio border area has been among the busiest for illegal crossings in recent months as thousands of Haitians, Cubans, Venezuelans and Hondurans descend limestone cliffs on the Mexican side to cross the Rio Grande.
The river is only ankle deep right now at popular crossings, Anfinsen said.
The mayor of Del Rio, Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano, said the size of the group has grown steadily to more than 8,200 people. “I thought the worst case scenario was having a few people, maybe 150 people roaming the streets,” said Lozano, who warned the Biden administration in a February video that his community needed more. federal support to deal with an increase in level crossings.
“Although I foreshadowed the worst case scenario, it is probably a worst case scenario,” he said. “I need the administration to recognize that there is a real-time border crisis right now and that it is having dire consequences for safety, health and safety.”
Illegal crossings along the southern United States border remained at high levels for decades last month as authorities arrested 208,887 migrants in August, according to enforcement data released Wednesday by Customs and the United States. US border protection.
It was the first month since Biden took office that the number of border arrests has not increased, but August’s figure was only a 2% drop from July, when 212 672 were taken into custody, the highest in 21 years. Border Patrol agents have arrested more than 1.2 million border workers since Biden took office.
When border arrests rose sharply this spring, the president said the increase was in line with normal seasonal trends. But crossings continued to skyrocket regardless of the extreme weather conditions, and U.S. border officials struggled to cope with the health, humanitarian and security challenges of the historic influx, especially as families and children represent a growing part of the passages.
In recent months, Del Rio has been a testing ground for Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s more aggressive border security plans, including charging the migrants with state crimes such as trespassing.
Val Verde County, which includes Del Rio, chose President Donald Trump in 2020, voting for a top Republican for the first time in decades.
Lozano said that while he initially praised the Republican governor’s efforts, the local justice system was now overwhelmed.
Val Verde County has received funding from the state and hundreds of Texas state troops in recent months to assist border patrol officers. At one point this summer, then sector chief Austin Skero had just four officers patrolling more than 40 miles of river, with officials tied up to process more than 1,000 migrants a day.
Haitian, Venezuelan and Cuban migrants often say they prefer to cross the Del Rio region because of its reputation as comparatively safer than the Rio Grande valley downstream.
Human rights activists have long predicted that unrest in the Mexican border towns of Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuna would lead to mass migration. Although the route is attractive to migrants who can pay a little more, these communities lack the aid infrastructure and local government support that exist elsewhere in Mexican cities.
Many migrants have arrived at the border in buses that appear to be part of a large smuggling operation, Lozano said. “It looks like there is an off-grid bus system that is not registered with the Mexican government and that drives these people north,” he said.
Some Del Rio residents, especially those living along the river and on ranches, have sounded the alarm in recent months about large groups of migrants appearing on their properties.
Information for this article was provided by Arelis Hernandez, Nick Miroff, and Maria Sacchetti of the Washington Post; and Ben Fox of the Associated Press.