Haitians Undeterred by US Plan 09/19 09:25
DEL RIO, Texas (AP) -- Haitian migrants seeking to escape poverty, hunger
and a feeling of hopelessness in their home country said they will not be
deterred by U.S. plans to speedily send them back, as thousands of people
remained encamped on the Texas border Saturday after crossing from Mexico.
Scores of people waded back and forth across the Rio Grande on Saturday
afternoon, re-entering Mexico to purchase water, food and diapers in Ciudad
Acua before returning to the Texas encampment under and near a bridge in the
border city of Del Rio.
Junior Jean, a 32-year-old man from Haiti, watched as people cautiously
carried cases of water or bags of food through the knee-high river water. Jean
said he lived on the streets in Chile the past four years, resigned to
searching for food in garbage cans.
"We are all looking for a better life," he said.
The Department of Homeland Security said Saturday that it moved about 2,000
of the migrants from the camp to other locations Friday for processing and
possible removal from the U.S. Its statement also said it would have 400 agents
and officers in the area by Monday morning and would send more if necessary.
The announcement marked a swift response to the sudden arrival of Haitians
in Del Rio, a Texas city of about 35,000 people roughly 145 miles (230
kilometers) west of San Antonio. It sits on a relatively remote stretch of
border that lacks capacity to hold and process such large numbers of people.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Friday that the U.S would
likely fly the migrants out of the country on five to eight flights a day,
starting Sunday, while another official expected no more than two a day and
said everyone would be tested for COVID-19. The first official said operational
capacity and Haiti's willingness to accept flights would determine how many
flights there would be. Both officials were not authorized to discuss the
matter publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Told of the U.S. plans Saturday, several migrants said they still intended
to remain in the encampment and seek asylum. Some spoke of the most recent
devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel
Mose, saying they were afraid to return to a country that seems more unstable
than when they left.
"In Haiti, there is no security," said Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian
who arrived with his wife and two daughters. "The country is in a political
Haitians have been migrating to the U.S. in large numbers from South America
for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating
2010 earthquake. After jobs dried up from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de
Janeiro, many made the dangerous trek by foot, bus and car to the U.S. border,
including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
Jorge Luis Mora Castillo, a 48-year-old from Cuba, said he arrived Saturday
in Acuna and also planned to cross into the U.S. Castillo said his family paid
smugglers $12,000 to take him, his wife and their son out of Paraguay, a South
American nation where they had lived for four years.
Told of the U.S. message discouraging migrants, Castillo said he wouldn't
change his mind.
"Because to go back to Cuba is to die," he said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed off vehicle and pedestrian traffic
in both directions Friday at the only border crossing between Del Rio and
Ciudad Acua "to respond to urgent safety and security needs" and it remained
closed Saturday. Travelers were being directed indefinitely to a crossing in
Eagle Pass, roughly 55 miles (90 kilometers) away.
Crowd estimates varied, but Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said Saturday evening
there were 14,534 immigrants at the camp under the bridge. Migrants pitched
tents and built makeshif t shelters from giant reeds known as carrizo cane.
Many bathed and washed clothing in the river.
It is unclear how such a large number amassed so quickly, though many
Haitians have been assembling in camps on the Mexican side of the border to
wait while deciding whether to attempt entry into the U.S.
The number of Haitian arrivals began to reach unsustainable levels for the
Border Patrol in Del Rio about 2 weeks ago, prompting the agency's acting
sector chief, Robert Garcia, to ask headquarters for help, according to a U.S.
official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Since then, the agency has transferred Haitians in buses and vans to other
Border Patrol facilities in Texas, specifically El Paso, Laredo and Rio Grande
Valley. They are mostly processed outside of the pandemic-related authority,
meaning they can claim asylum and remain in the U.S. while their claims are
considered. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes custody decision but
families can generally not be held more than 20 days under court order.
Homeland Security's plan announced Saturday signals a shift to use of
pandemic-related authority for immediate expulsion to Haiti without an
opportunity to claim asylum, the official said.
The flight plan, while potentially massive in scale, hinges on how Haitians
respond. They might have to decide whether to stay put at the risk of being
sent back to an impoverished homeland wracked by poverty and political
instability or return to Mexico. Unaccompanied children are exempt from
DHS said, "our borders are not open, and people should not make the
"Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including
expulsion," the agency wrote. "Irregular migration poses a significant threat
to the health and welfare 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 Trump administration policies that Biden considered
cruel or inhumane, most notably one requiring asylum-seekers to remain in
Mexico while waiting for U.S. immigration court hearings.
A pandemic-related order to immediately expel migrants without giving them
the opportunity to seek asylum that was introduced in March 2020 remains in
effect, but unaccompanied children and many families have been exempt. During
his first month in office, Biden chose to exempt children traveling alone on
Nicole Phillips, legal director for advocacy group Haitian Bridge Alliance,
said Saturday that the U.S. government should process migrants and allow them
to apply for asylum, not rush to expel them.
"It really is a humanitarian crisis," Phillips said. "There needs to be a
lot of help there now."
Mexico's immigration agency said in a statement Saturday that Mexico has
opened a "permanent dialogue" with Haitian government representatives "to
address the situation of irregular migratory flows during their entry and
transit through Mexico, as well as their assisted return."
The agency didn't specify if it was referring to the Haitians in Ciudad
Acua or to the thousands of others in Tapachula, at the Guatemalan border, and
the agency didn't immediately reply to a request for further details.
In August, U.S. authorities stopped migrants nearly 209,000 times at the
border, which was close to a 20-year high even though many of the stops
involved repeat crossers because there are no legal consequences for being
expelled under the pandemic authority.