DEL RIO – The Biden administration said on Saturday it was speeding up deportation flights and sending 400 federal agents to Del Rio to take control of an escalating crisis as thousands of immigrants, mostly Haitians , continued to flow towards the border of the city of Texas, camping in squalid conditions under its international bridge.
Customs and border protection temporarily closed its ports of entry there on Friday night and rerouted international traffic 57 miles east of the nearby town of Eagle Pass, a move local authorities fear it will cost. millions of dollars in business losses if the shutdown lasts.
CBP is coordinating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard to move migrants from Del Rio to other processing locations, Department of Homeland Security officials said in a statement on Saturday. Around 2,000 had already been transferred, but overnight the camp grew to more than 14,600 migrants – the largest number of migrants Val Verde County has ever seen at a time, local officials said. DHS said it was securing additional transport to speed up deportation flights to Haiti and other countries in the next 72 hours.
The situation in Del Rio, nearly three hours west of San Antonio, escalated this week as more than 15,000 migrants, many from Haiti, arrived at the border in recent days, settling in a makeshift camp under the bridge while waiting for the CBP. agents to process their requests to stay in the United States. Conditions quickly deteriorated, and Governor Greg Abbot sent soldiers from the National Guard and the Department of Public Safety to help federal agents secure the area. The number of migrants arriving there has nearly doubled in recent days, Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, a Democrat, said.
“The numbers are just staggering,” he said.
He said 10 more buses carrying migrants arrived in the border town overnight and two more on Saturday, accusing his Mexican counterpart in Ciudad Acuña of not doing more to stop transit migration from that country’s side. Most of the migrants are of Haitian descent, with the rest mostly from Cuba, Venezuela and Honduras, he said.
“We have 15,000 people here and why did they come to Del Rio? They came to Del Rio and crossed over to Del Rio because the Mexican government allowed it on the Mexican side, ”Owens said. “No one has ever seen anything like it here, in terms of scale.”
The mayor of Acuña, Roberto De los Santos Vásquez, could not be reached immediately for comment.
U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales, a Republican from San Antonio whose southern Texas border district includes Del Rio, said the Biden administration’s handling of 2,000 migrants in 24 hours was a remarkable achievement and praised his decision to ” speed up eviction flights. He said up to 10 flights from Del Rio are scheduled for next week.
But he urged the White House to quickly revive a controversial Trump-era policy known as “Stay in Mexico,” or the Migrant Protection Protocols, which required migrants to wait in Mexico while they were pursuing their asylum claims in the United States. Biden had overturned the policy, but a series of recent court rulings ordered the administration to implement it once again.
“The sooner the administration can reinstall the ‘stay in Mexico’ policy, it will help alleviate some of that stress at Del Rio, and I think the administration will have no choice,” Gonzales said.
He said many migrants arriving in Del Rio were from Haiti but had fled after the devastating 2010 earthquake there and were living elsewhere in Central and South America, making it difficult for their speedy return to Haiti. He noted the organized nature of this recent wave of migration, in which Haitian migrants arrived by bus and with specific instructions sent via Whatsapp.
“It goes way beyond Haiti and goes way beyond Del Rio,” Gonzales said. “It’s sort of a plan for the next border community and the next foreign community to come here.
The Biden administration’s efforts on Saturday to quickly return these migrants come as the White House continues to use a pandemic health ordinance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year known as Title 42 to expel migrants quickly to Mexico or their country of origin without the possibility of seeking asylum. Last week, a federal judge barred the Biden administration from using Title 42 to deport migrant families, but suspended the order for 14 days. The Biden administration appealed the decision on Friday.
“The majority of migrants continue to be deported under the authority of Title 42 of the CDC. Those who cannot be deported under Title 42 and do not have a legal basis to stay will be placed in an expedited deportation process, ”DHS officials said in a statement on Saturday. “The Biden administration has reiterated that our borders are not open and people should not be making the dangerous journey.”
Late Saturday, the police had erected barricades on the national road towards the bridge. Parked Ministry of Public Security patrol cars blocked all traffic.
Fleets of law enforcement and emergency vehicles circulated throughout the day to pick up migrants, some of whom passed out of dehydration in the camp, local officials said. Over the past week, at least five migrants from the camp gave birth in hospitals in Del Rio, the Val Verde County judge said.
Migrants have arrived in Del Rio in recent years, but this is the first time the city has seen so many at the same time, officials and residents said. The situation has heightened tensions here between those who want to help migrants and those who want them to be returned immediately. A few dozen residents waving American flags and Trump, including Alma Arredondo Lynch, protested on Saturday against what she called the diversion of local resources to help migrants.
Many released migrants simply pass through Del Rio, taking charter flights or buses to their final destinations across the country to reunite with their families already in the United States.
Santiago Pardo, a Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition volunteer, said he flew from Chicago to help because he said it was his “responsibility to protect those who seek protection and to deal with the humans as well as humans “.
“Everyone is an immigrant. For some of us it’s a generation back, for some people it’s about 20 generations back, ”he said.
Some say Del Rio is a welcoming city but simply does not have the resources to accommodate so many migrants.
“We want to help, but at the same time we have to realize our abilities and our capabilities,” said Francisco Lopez Jr., chairman of the Val Verde County Republican Party.
Stelin Jean, 29, has been camping under the Del Rio International Bridge since the start of the week with his wife, their daughter and his wife’s son. Haitian family fled their country to Bolivia in July before heading to the United States
Jean said he hopes relatives in New York will find an immigration lawyer who can help them find a way to stay in the United States.
– I’m afraid, said Jean. “We have two children and there is no quality of life” in Haiti.
The Caribbean island nation was hit by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in August shortly after its president was assassinated in July, the latest episode of years of political instability and unrest. The Biden administration extended a type of temporary residence known as temporary protected status to Haitians who arrived in the United States before May and briefly halted their deportation flights. Plans to expel them again angered defenders.
The crisis at Del Rio has sparked a new round of criticism from Republicans, including Abbott, who has repeatedly hammered Biden over this year’s record-breaking border crossing attempts. Many migrants are immediately returned under the sanitary order, but more and more have been allowed to stay in the United States pending resolution of their immigration cases.
Speaking in Fort Worth on Friday, Abbott said the US Department of Defense and DHS told the state that many migrants would be temporarily moved to Arizona, California and possibly Laredo to relieve pressure at Del Rio.
“But one thing we do know for sure is that there is nothing but uncertainty and indecision on the part of the Biden administration as to what exactly it is going to do,” said Abbott.
Del Rio mayor Bruno Lozano also declared the local state of disaster on Friday and asked for state assistance to help deter more migrants from entering the city. He said the city of 35,000, which has already seen an unprecedented increase in border crossing attempts this year, expects an additional 8,000 migrants to arrive in the coming days.
The Del Rio area, which spans 47 mostly rural counties, is the second busiest area in CBP. Nearly 215,000 migrants have been apprehended there since October, and Val Verde County was the first to prosecute migrants for criminal trespassing as part of a state deterrence initiative launched by Abbott this summer. .
Lozano did not immediately return a call for comment on Saturday, but told the Washington Post the situation was “no longer sustainable or acceptable.”
” We have now [the equivalent of] a third of the population of the city of Del Rio, Texas, in a confined space under the international bridge, ”he said. “I thought the alarm went off on Monday, but it’s a nuclear bomb alarm.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a non-partisan, nonprofit media organization that educates – and engages with – Texans about public policy, politics, government and issues in the world. statewide.