CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico, Sept. 18 (Reuters) – U.S. officials on Friday transferred some 2,000 people to other immigration processing stations from a Texas border town that was overwhelmed by an influx of Haitians and d other migrants, the Ministry of Internal Security announced on Saturday. .
These transfers will continue “to ensure that irregular migrants are promptly detained, treated and removed from the United States in accordance with our laws and policies,” DHS said in a statement.
While some migrants in search of employment and safety have been heading to the United States for weeks or months, it is only in recent days that the number of migrants converging on Del Rio, Texas, attracted attention, posing a humanitarian and political challenge to the Biden administration.
DHS said that in response to migrants sheltering in increasingly precarious conditions under the Del Rio International Bridge that connects the city of Texas to Ciudad Acuna in Mexico, it was speeding up flights to Haiti and other destinations in the next 72 hours.
DHS added that it was working with countries where migrants started their journey – for many Haitians, countries like Brazil and Chile – to accept return migrants. Officials on both sides of the border said most of the migrants were Haitians.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry expressed solidarity with the mass of migrants at the border in a series of social media posts on Saturday evening, saying “arrangements have already been made” to warmly welcome those returning to the nation of Caribbean.
“I share their suffering and welcome them home,” he wrote.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection were sending an additional 400 officers to the Del Rio area in the coming days, DHS said, after the border agency said on Friday that due to the influx it was temporarily shutting down the Del Rio port of entry and rerouted traffic to Eagle Pass, 57 miles (92 km) east.
“We reiterated that our borders are not open and people should not make the dangerous journey,” a DHS spokesperson told Reuters.
The mayor of Del Rio, Bruno Lozano, said in a video on Saturday evening that there were now just over 14,000 migrants under the bridge.
(GRAPHIC: Apprehensions at the border: https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-IMMIGRATION/BORDER/xklpyoalapg/)
As it became clear that US authorities were returning migrants to their countries of origin, Mexican police officers began asking migrants buying food in Ciudad Acuna to return to the US side of the river on Saturday morning, witnesses said. from Reuters. The migrants argued that they needed supplies, and the police eventually gave in.
On the Texas side, Haitians have been joined by Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans under the Del Rio Bridge, where migrants say conditions are deteriorating.
“There is urine, feces and we sleep next to the garbage,” said Venezuelan migrant Michael Vargas, 30, who has been at the camp with his wife and two children for three days.
Vargas said they received ticket number 16,000 and authorities are currently processing the number 9,800. He said people were separated into three groups: single men, single women and families.
Jeff Jeune, a 27-year-old Haitian, was among several migrants who said processing families took longer than single adults, leaving young children to sleep on the floor in the sweltering heat of 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). ). Jeune said her two sons, aged 1 and 10, fell ill with fever and cold-like symptoms.
In two photos sent to Reuters by a migrant from the camp, dozens of adults and children are shown huddled together under the bridge, some sitting on cardboard or thin blankets spread out on the packed earth. Personal belongings were stacked in neat piles. There appear to be tents made of reeds and wooden sticks in the background.
Typically, migrants who arrive at the border and surrender to the authorities can apply for asylum if they fear being returned to their country of origin, triggering a lengthy legal process. The Trump administration has reduced protections, arguing that many asylum claims were bogus.
A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health order known as Title 42, issued under the Trump administration at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, allows most migrants to be promptly deported without possibility of applying for asylum. President Joe Biden has kept this rule in place although he has exempted unaccompanied minors and his administration has not expelled most families.
A judge ruled on Thursday that the policy could not be applied to families, but the ruling does not take effect for two weeks and the Biden administration is appealing to court.
A mass deportation of Haitians to Del Rio is sure to anger immigration advocates who say such returns are inhumane given conditions in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. In July the Haitian president was assassinated and in August a major earthquake and powerful storm hit the country.
The Biden administration extended temporary deportation assistance to approximately 150,000 Haitians in the United States earlier this year. This relief does not apply to newcomers. Expulsion and expulsion are technically different – the expulsion is much faster.
U.S. authorities briefly halted returns to Haiti following the August 14 earthquake.
The number of Haitian migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border has steadily increased this year, alongside an overall increase in the number of migrants, according to CBP data.
Many Haitians interviewed by Reuters said they used to live in South America and are now heading north because they cannot gain legal status or struggle to secure decent jobs. Several told Reuters they were following shared routes on WhatsApp to reach Del Rio.
More than a dozen Haitians from Tapachula, in southern Mexico, near the border with Guatemala, told Reuters on Friday that messages from WhatsApp groups spread lies about the ease of crossing the border.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in Ciudad Acuña and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Mica Rosenberg and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Donna Bryson, Daniel Wallis, Leslie Adler and William Mallard
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