Migrants began flowing back into the Mexican side of the southern border on Monday from Del Rio, Texas as the Department of Homeland Security plans to ramp up deportation flights to seven per day.
Video emerged Monday of scores of mostly Haitian migrants making the trek back across the Rio Grande River to Mexico from the U.S after three flights full of migrants from the U.S. landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Sunday.
Up to 15,000 migrants set up camp under and around the Del Rio International Bridge, using a dam area to cross between the Mexico and U.S. side of the border.
The influx of immigrants came after the Biden administration in February paused deportation flights to Haiti and also comes as a result of recent earthquake and president’s assassination.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday that he will visit the southern border, as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who was put in charge of the border crisis, have remained silent on the recent developments of mass migration among Haitians.
‘I will be traveling to the border myself,’ Mayorkas told CNN, adding he speaks regularly with the White House and President Joe Biden about the issue.
Mayorkas also said he has been briefed on the situation ‘multiple times’ – however, he did not specify on Sunday when he will be taking his trip to the border.
The Haitian migration crisis is exacerbated by those who left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to settle in South and Central America who are now desperate to leave there due to the coronavirus pandemic and economic collapse. At that time many flew to Ecuador where there’s no visa requirements – then proliferated to Brazil and Chile.
They are now leaving there and making their way up to Mexico anyway they can.
Images from Del Rio, Texas began emerging over the weekend where thousands of mostly Haitian migrants used a dam to cross between Mexico and the U.S. On Sunday, three removal flights of migrants arrived back in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The developing crisis forced the Biden administration to close six crossing points along the border and send in at least 400 troops to help stop the flow and round up migrants for deportation.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday that he will visit the southern border as 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants set up camp near a bridge, he did not specify to CNN’s Jim Acosta (left) when he would visit the border as DHS ramps up deportation efforts by aiming to get seven flights of migrants removed each day
Removal flights began over the weekend, with three planes full of Haitians who fled to the U.S. landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Sunday
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have not addressed the latest developments at the southern border – and neither have visited the Rio Grande Valley, where they majority of the illegal crossings are taking place. Here Haitian migrants cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into the U.S. on Sunday
U.S. border patrol officers on horseback prevent migrants from reaching the U.s. as they try to return to their camp after having crossed from the U.S. into Mexico to buy food on Sunday
The massive encampment of migrants, believed to include up to 15,000 people, has brought up several issues, including health concerns in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic as Mayorkas revealed they are not vaccinating migrants.
‘We certainly are experiencing a challenging situation, but we are surging resources and we have a multi-pronged approach to this,’ Mayorkas said on Sunday.
Mayorkas also defended the administration’s decision to expel the Haitian migrants while welcoming in 50,000 Afghan refugees for resettlement in the U.S. after Biden’s bungled troops withdrawal from Afghanistan last month.
‘This is who we are as a country. We stand up for the people who stood up for us,’ Mayorkas said on Sunday. ‘We are providing refuge to individuals who assisted us in combat in Afghanistan. We are providing refuge to vulnerable women, journalists, young kids. This is one of our greatest traditions as a country. We have committed relief to those individuals, and we are delivering it. And we are delivering it while securing the safety of the American public.’
When asked whether there’s a ‘contradiction’ in the treatment of Haitians, who had fled after a devastating earthquake and the assassination of the Haitian president, versus Afghan refugees, Mayorkas said, ‘Not at all.’
‘Those two processes are quite different,’ he insisted. ‘We are bringing in Afghan nationals by air after they have been screened and vetted. That is a safe, orderly, and humane process.’
‘That is quite different than illegal entry in between ports of entry in a time of pandemic when we have been quite clear, explicit, for months now that that is not the way to reach the United States. And it will not succeed,’ Mayorkas said.
Haitian migrants set up a massive makeshift camp under the Del Rio International Bridge in just the last weeks, with the number swelling from around 400 to 14,534 in just one week, according to Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano.
DHS revealed over the weekend that it would ramp up and accelerate its removal efforts of migrants as Biden continues to face widespread criticism for his handling of the humanitarian and national security crisis at the southern border.
Biden and Harris have not visited the U.S. side of the Rio Grande Valley – where the majority of the migration crisis has taken place.
Neither the president or vice president have addressed the latest developments or the new DHS strategy to deport these migrants.
Mayorkas told reporters Sunday that the flights to Haiti had started earlier in the day and would continue daily. His agency previously said it was accelerating repatriations to Haiti and sending more border agents to Del Rio, where conditions under the bridge have grown increasingly squalid.
But in his brief remarks, Mayorkas stressed that the Haitian government had ‘communicated quite clearly to us its ability to receive the flights’ and said the U.S. government is providing funding to Haiti to help without specifying the amount.
DHS is aiming to get six or seven flights of Haitian migrants out of the country and back to their homeland each day.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said Saturday ‘arrangements have already been made’ to receive those who were being returned to the Caribbean nation.
‘We have no choice at this point but to increase repatriation flights,’ Mayorkas said, adding the flights would take migrants either to Haiti or ‘possibly other countries.’
A Haitian immigration official, who was not authorized to speak to media, said the country was not prepared for an influx of possibly thousands of returning migrants.
Border agents on horseback chased down migrants on Sunday who were illegally crossing the border into the U.S. to try and join the camp in the isolated Texas town after they said the ‘border is closed’.
Haitian migrants are pleading with Biden not to deport them after being stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border – even as Border Patrol had more than 300 returned home on the first flights out on Sunday.
Border Patrol agents on horseback tried to round up and stop Haitian migrants from stepping onto U.S. soil as they crossed the Rio Grande River near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge on Sunday to try and join the encampment
A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows thousands of migrants seeking refuge from the sun underneath the Del Rio International Bridge, as other people can be seen wading across the Rio Grande River at the Mexico-U.S. border on Saturday
Scores of mostly Haitian migrants are pictured on the banks of the Rio Grande River on Sunday as DHS ramps up removal flight efforts and attempts to block asylum-seekers from getting to the U.S. through the Mexico border near Del Rio
WHY HAITIANS ARE FLEEING TO AMERICA
Thousands of Haitians are traveling to Mexico and crossed the border into Texas at a time when the Caribbean nation is being ravaged by political and economic turmoil and hammered by natural disasters.
In early July, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home of Port-au-Prince in a dramatic plot which authorities are yet to determine who the mastermind was.
The murder threw the troubled nation into uncertainty with gun battles breaking out in the streets and a fight over who was the rightful successor as questions continued to mount about a possible inside job.
This week, Haiti’s chief prosecutor said there was evidence linking the country’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry to the plot and banned him from leaving the country until he answers questions about his potential involvement.
One month after the assassination, the island nation was dealt another blow as a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck in August.
More than 2,200 people were killed and 100,000 homes destroyed.
This marks the biggest natural disaster Haiti has seen since the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 which killed over 200,000 people.
The nation was still recovering from the devastation it wrought and its economy was already in tatters as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
Most Haitians who have traveled to the border in recent weeks are thought to have already been living in South America after the 2010 earthquake.
Many have then traveled up through Mexico into the US recently – likely driven by the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on South America and the pause on deportation flights to Haiti.
Data released by Border Patrol shows 28,000 Haitians have been arrested along the border this fiscal year, which began last October.
This dwarfs the 2020 number of 4,395 and 2,046 in 2019.
Last month, 6,768 Haitians were detained by Border Patrol, up from 5,000 in July.
Haiti is severely impoverished with 24.7 per cent of Haitians in extreme poverty, meaning they live on less than $1.25 per day – and 59 per cent of Haitians living on less than $2 each day.
Of the 195 countries in the world, Haiti comes in 142 when ranked by GDP.
On Saturday, the DHS announced it moved about 2,000 of the migrants from the encampment in Del Rio, which closed down the bridge and other roads, to other locations for processing and possible removal from the U.S.
The statement said it would have 400 Border Patrol agents and officers in the area by Monday morning and would send more if necessary.
By Sunday, nearly 330 Haitians were deported to Port-au-Prince – the capital city of Haiti, on three flights from the U.S.
A U.S. official revealed to the AP on Friday that they would likely send five to eight flights of migrants out per day in the coming week.
Migrants were continuing to cross the Rio Grande river over the weekend despite heightened security on the U.S. side that included horse-mounted agents, one of whom charged his horse to block migrants and swung what looked like a lariat at a person trying to climb up the U.S. embankment from the water.
At least 100 Haitians, including families with small children, crossed back into Mexico from under the bridge on Sunday evening, gripping a yellow rope stretched across the river that had risen to chest level.
Scores of people were pictured wading back and forth across the Rio Grande, re-entering Mexico to purchase water, food and diapers in Ciudad Acuña before returning to the Texas encampment under and near a bridge in the border city of Del Rio.
Many carried backpacks and plastic bags of belongings, and several people told Reuters they planned to stay in Mexico for now because they did not want to be returned to Haiti.
The announcement of removal flights came in response to the sudden arrival of Haitians in Del Rio, roughly 145 miles west of San Antonio, after wading through the Rio Grande. The town sits on a relatively remote stretch of border that lacks capacity to hold and process such large numbers of people who sought to petition the United States for entry and to escape poverty and gang violence in their own country.
At one point, the Associated Press reports, the site was dotted with tents and tarps strung up on reeds as thousands waited to cross into the country.
The U.S. took another step on Sunday to quell the influx, blocking entry of migrants at the Mexican border.
An unnamed Mexican police officer on the Mexican side of the border said migrants will not be allowed to cross anymore even as reporters witnessed Haitian immigrants continuing to cross the border.
About a dozen Texas Department of Public Safety vehicles lined up near the bridge and river where Haitians have been crossing from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas for three weeks. Yellow police tape was being used to block them from using a small dam to walk into the U.S.
On Saturday, Border Patrol agents on horseback began rounding up some of the migrants.
A day earlier, about 500 Haitians headed towards the U.S. border were ordered off buses by Mexican immigration authorities in the northern state of Tamaulipas, and some tried to continue the journey on foot.
Immigration agents and National Guard officers stopped the buses at a highway checkpoint near the town of San Fernando, about 120 miles south of the Texas border, the state government said in a press release.
Mexico has turned back Haitian migrants trying to walk through southern Mexico. But 8,000 to 12,000 people, mainly Haitians, have already walked across the Rio Grande river. Some of those migrants may have already been in northern Mexico for some time.
One migrant is seen running to dodge the arm of a sheriff, on horseback, as they tried to stop people crossing the border illegally
The migrants stopped in Tamaulipas told local media they had boarded about 15 buses in the city of Poza Rica, Veracruz, and were headed on a nine-hour journey to Reynosa, Tamaulipas, across the border from McAllen, Texas.
Meanwhile, other Haitian migrants have been making the long and tiring journey north to the Texas border by foot from the southern Mexico city of Tapachula.
Federal authorities have recently been allowing migrant groups to walk for hours and tire under sweltering heat before swooping in to detain them. Before dawn on Wednesday, officials surprised migrants sheltering from the rain in the nearby town of Mapastepec, chasing them between houses and businesses.
Many of the Haitians aiming to reach the U.S. are traveling from both Haiti and other South American countries such as Chile and Brazil where they have lived since seeking refuge there after the 2010 earthquake.
The reasons for the influx of Haitians traveling to the U.S. are multifaceted. The rise in Haitian migration began soon after President Biden took office when he began reversing former President Donald Trump’s strict immigration policies. Many Haitians interpreted this as the U.S. being more open to immigration.
‘False information, misinformation and misunderstanding might have created a false sense of hope,’ said Guerline M. Jozef, the executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, told The New York Times.
Meanwhile, last month Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake last month and the assassination of the country’s president in July – leaving gangs to wreak havoc on the capital. This led many Haitians to flee their homes and leave the country.
In addition, many Haitians who are traveling to the U.S. are among the estimated 250,000 Haitians who left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake for Chile and Brazil. But since the pandemic, both countries have suffered economic declines which has sparked the current influx of migrants trying to reach the U.S.
For those who are seeking to travel to the U.S. from Tapachula, they have already made the dangerous journey across countries while navigating jungles and deserts as they crossed international borders.
Jean Edelince, 36, who is originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, told the LA Times he has spent the last four months in Tapachula with his family.
Haitian migrants use a dam to cross into the United States from Mexico on Saturday
After Border Patrol cracked down on the dam crossing, migrants had to find other ways to cross between the U.S. and Mexico – like the Haitian immigrants walking through waist-high water in the Rio Grande
He had lived in Chile for four years but he and his family decided to travel north to reach Mexico through Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and finally Guatemala.
Edelince told the newspaper that he saw dead bodies of more than a dozen migrants who perished while walking through the rainforest of Darien Gap, which connects Colombia and Panama.
Migrants seeking to escape poverty, hunger and a feeling of hopelessness in their home countries said they will not be deterred by U.S. plans to speedily send them back.
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. He 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.
‘To go back to Cuba is to die,’ he said.
Junior Jean, a 32-year-old man from Haiti, said: ‘We are all looking for a better life.’
Another woman, only identified as Stephanie, said she also left ‘to go find a better future.
‘If jobs could be created, we would never have exposed ourselves to this misery,’ she said.
The migrants were forced to sleep on a concrete floor under thin plastic tarps, unable to shower, as they waited to be processed, according to Garry Momplaisir, who was deported with his wife and five year old daughter.
‘Biden knows well what is happening, but he doesn’t care,’ one woman told AFP. ‘He treated us, us and our four children worse than animals.’
More than half of the 327 Haitians that were deported on Sunday were under the age of five and were born abroad, according to AFP, with many Haitians emigrating to Chile and Brazil in 2016 and 2017 to save up enough money to come into the United States.
On Sunday, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry pledged to help those who are returning to the country.
‘It’s with great sorrow that we watch on social media, through television and listen on the radio to the tribulations of our brothers and sisters at the border of Mexico and the United States,’ he said in a televised speech, imploring Haitians to build a future where they can ‘live well in our country without having to suffer these forms of shame.’
Former President Donald Trump on Sunday slammed the White House for the continued migration crisis at the southern border, which has caused Customs and Border Protection to encounter more than 1.25 million illegal crossers since Biden took office.
‘The largest number of illegal aliens in the history of our Country are pouring in by the millions,’ Trump slammed. ‘They are totally unchecked and unvetted, can do whatever they want, and go wherever they want.
He added: ‘Our Country is rapidly becoming a cesspool of humanity. Murderers, drug dealers, and criminals of all shapes and sizes are a big part of this massive migration.’
‘Tens of thousands of people are coming from Haiti, and many now from countries in Africa, even more so now than South America,’ he said. ‘Nothing is done and the corrupt Mainstream Media is giving almost no attention to what will be perhaps the greatest Crisis in the history of our Country. This is not just a Border Crisis, this is a Crisis Crisis. God Bless America!’
Besides accelerating the rate of removal flights of the mass influx of Haiti asylum-seekers, DHS is also prompting Customs and Border Protection to increase manpower and improve conditions for those at camps along the border.
August was the first month since Biden became president where the monthly number of migrant crossings went down instead of increased. In July there were 213,534 encounters compared to 208,887 last month.
Several migrants, when they found out about U.S. plans on Saturday for removal, 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 Moïse, saying they were afraid to return to a country that seems more unstable than when they left.
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.
CBP closed off vehicle and pedestrian traffic in both directions Friday at the only border crossing between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña ‘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 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 makeshift 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 two-and-a-half 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, DHS 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.
DHS announcing its plan on 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 fast-track 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 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 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 humanitarian grounds.
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 Acuña 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.
A sweeping U.S. public health order known as Title 42, issued under the Trump administration at the beginning of the pandemic, allows most migrants to be quickly expelled without a chance to claim asylum.
Biden has kept that rule in place, although he exempted unaccompanied minors and his administration has not been expelling most families. Biden had promised a more humane immigration approach than that of his predecessor.
A U.S. judge ruled last week the policy could not be applied to families, but the ruling does not go into effect for two weeks and the Biden administration has appealed.
Typically, migrants can turn themselves in at the border and claim asylum, triggering a long court process. But the Trump administration whittled away at protections, arguing many asylum seekers did not qualify.