DEL RIO, Texas — Officials said Saturday that the US planned to ramp up its attempts to deport Haitian migrants on planes back to their Caribbean nation, as agents rushed into a Texas border community where thousands of Haitians have camped after crossing the border from Mexico.
According to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security, roughly 2,000 migrants who had congregated beneath and near a bridge in the border city of Del Rio were relocated to different sites on Friday for processing and probable deportation from the United States. It also stated that 400 agents and cops will be in the region by Monday am, with the ability to dispatch more if needed.
The statement comes in the wake of the unexpected arrival of Haitians in Del Rio, a community of approximately 35,000 people located about 145 miles (233 kilometres) west of San Antonio on a section of border that lacks the ability to retain and process such large groups of people.
The number of flights would be determined by the operational capacity and Haiti’s willingness to accept them, according to a US official who spoke to The Associated Press on Friday. Negotiations with Haitian officials are progressing, according to the official.
Starting Sunday, the US is anticipated to fly five to eight planes each day, while another official expects no more than two, and all migrants will be tested for COVID-19. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the subject publicly.
“To react to critical safety and security needs,” US Customs and Border Protection closed the sole border crossing between Del Rio and Ciudad Acua, Mexico, to cars and people in both ways on Friday. Travellers were being routed to a crossing in Eagle Pass, which was 57 miles (91 kilometres) away, indefinitely.
Estimates of the number of newcomers in Del Rio fluctuated, but Val Verde County Sheriff Frank Joe Martinez estimated on Friday that there were roughly 13,700 newcomers. Migrants set up tents and made temporary shelters out of carrizo cane, a large reed. Many people used the river to bathe and wash their clothes.
While the flight plan has the potential to be vast in scope, it is contingent on Haitians’ response. They may have to choose between staying put and risking being deported back to a poor nation plagued by poverty and political unrest, or returning to Mexico. Fast-track expulsions are not applicable to unaccompanied minors.
“Our borders are not open,” the Department of Homeland Security stated, “and individuals should not attempt the perilous journey.”
The agency added, “Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including expulsion.” “Irregular migration presents a serious threat to border towns’ health and welfare, as well as the lives of migrants themselves, and should not be attempted.”
Stephen Miller, the architect of former President Donald Trump’s harsh policies and a vocal opponent of the Biden administration, voiced doubts that Haiti’s government would consent to a large-scale operation’s number of aircraft. Last year, he recalled daily contacts with US State Department officials over Haiti’s opposition to planes, with Haiti eventually relenting under fear of penalties.
Mexican immigration officials forced around 500 Haitians off buses in the state of Tamaulipas, roughly 120 miles (200 kilometres) south of the Texas border, according to a news release from the state administration on Friday. They continued on foot toward the border.
For several years, Haitians have been travelling in significant numbers from South America to the United States, many fleeing their Caribbean homeland following a devastating earthquake in 2010. Many people attempted the perilous journey to the US border by foot, bus, and vehicle as jobs dried up after the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, including via the notorious Darien Gap, a Panamanian rainforest.
Although many Haitians have gathered in camps on the Mexican side of the border to wait while considering whether or not to attempt to enter the United States, it is unknown how such a huge number gathered so rapidly.
U.S. authorities are being put to the test after Biden swiftly removed Trump administration rules that he deemed cruel or inhumane, including one that required asylum applicants to remain in Mexico while awaiting U.S. immigration court hearings.
Unaccompanied children and many families have been exempted from a pandemic-related order to immediately deport migrants without giving them the opportunity to request asylum, which was implemented in March 2020. For humanitarian reasons, Biden opted to exclude minors travelling alone during his first month in office.
Mexico has promised to accept evicted families from just Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, allowing Haitians and other nations to enter the country.
Despite the fact that the majority of the encounters included repeat crossers, there are no legal penalties for being removed under the pandemic authority, US officials stopped almost 209,000 migrants at the border in August, which was close to a 20-year high.