Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. walk in the Rio Grande river near the international bridge between Mexico and the U.S., in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, September 17, 2021.
U.S. officials have closed traffic at the only border crossing in Del Rio, Texas, as the Biden administration is reported to be preparing for the wide scale expulsion flights for thousands of mostly Haitian migrants who have been camped out beneath an international bridge there.
As many as 10,000 people seeking asylum in the U.S. were packed under the bridge between Texas and Acuna Mexico late Friday.
An anonymous U.S. official told us that the number of outgoing flights will depend on operational capacity and Haiti’s willingness.
The situation is growing increasingly dire amid the Texas heat, with the mayor of Del Rio declaring a state of emergency. The growing crowds of migrants are living in unsanitary conditions and there is a concern over the potential for stampedes.
The mayor of Del Rio in the U.S. state of Texas declared a state of emergency Friday as up to 12,000 undocumented migrants, many of them Haitians, streamed across the border from Mexico. Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said the migrants were crowded under the Del Rio International Bridge, which links Ciudad Acuna in Mexico with the Texan city across the Rio Grande river.
Video footage showed thousands, both adults and families, under and around the flyover.
Many were Haitians hoping to stay in the United States as their country suffers after a large earthquake and continuing political turmoil, Lozano said.
They were also joined by Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, many of whom had made long and harrowing journeys to Mexico through Central and South America.
A few had pitched small tents, while many others slept under light blankets.
Lozano put the number of migrants under the bridge at 10,503 late Thursday but hundreds continued to flow into Del Rio Friday. By the afternoon, a Mexican official said they were around 12,000.
And officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border said more were expected to arrive.
Lozano’s emergency declaration said the influx was taking a toll on Del Rio’s resources, especially amid a pandemic. The declaration allows the city to request federal financial aid and it also called on the state to deploy law enforcement officials to help.
On Thursday, the U.S. Border Patrol already said it was increasing staffing in Del Rio and providing drinking water, towels and portable toilets.
Media reports had noted hundreds of migrants wading through the knee-high Rio Grande back into Mexico to stock up on essentials, as they said they were not receiving them on the American side.
Police patrols were seen as people waited to cross into Mexico after the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agency shut Del Rio’s border crossing amid an influx of migrants, in Del Rio, Texas, U.S., September 17, 2021.
Vast majority of Migrants face expulsion
All are awaiting processing by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), hopeful they might be given a chance to remain in the United States.
Lozano however noted the border patrol was “overwhelmed with the influx of migrants in the Del Rio sector.”
A Haitian migrant said that U.S. officials were handing out numbers for immigration processing, but people had to wait for days for their turn.
The number of Haitians crossing the southwest border into the U.S. has been surging for months.
U.S. President Joe Biden has pledged a more humane approach to immigration than that of his predecessor Donald Trump. But the situation in Del Rio is giving ammunition to critics who say Biden’s policies have encouraged migrants.
The White House remained silent on the latest influx as political pressure mounted.
Both Republicans and Democrats called for quick action from Biden, whose administration recorded and mostly expelled more than 200,000 migrants at the border in both July and August, the highest numbers in more than a decade.
The CBP said the “vast majority” of single migrants and many of the families would be expelled under the government’s Title 42 policy curtailing immigration due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Migrants from Haiti marched to the Mexican Commission for Aid to Refugees to claim for their rights, in Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico, September 15, 2021.
Hundreds of migrants stuck in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas on Wednesday protested against the country’s immigration policies that have frustrated their efforts to travel to the United States.
Many of the Central and Latin American migrants, including a large Haitian contingent, have been stuck for months in the city of Tapachula near the border with Guatemala, complaining that authorities have stopped them from transiting through Mexico.
“We are not criminals, we are international workers,” the migrants shouted.
Many of the Haitian migrants had arrived from Brazil and Chile, two nations where they fled long ago to avoid poverty back home. The Caribbean nation of Haiti is the poorest in the Western hemisphere, and its economy has been further hit by earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic and political unrest.
The influx of migrants has overwhelmed Tapachula and local migration infrastructure. Thousands of migrants can be seen sleeping on the streets.
“We are begging to be let out of Tapachula, they are starving us,” said Juliana Exime, a 30-year-old Haitian woman who has been in that city for two weeks.
“We are sleeping on the street, in the rain, we are getting sick, they want to kill us and even more so with that disease,” Exime added, referring to COVID-19.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent processes a group of migrants in Sunland Park, New Mexico, U.S., July 22, 2021.
Mexican migration officials and military personnel have been criticized by rights groups for using violence to stem the flows of U.S.-bound migrants in the south of the country.
The United States has pressured Mexico to stop the migration flows and the government of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has often deployed security forces to physically prevent the migrants from heading north.
Washington also has asked Central Americans not to undertake the dangerous journey north, with reports of kidnappings, extortion, rapes and even murder of migrants.
U.S. authorities arrested more than 195,000 migrants at the border with Mexico in August, according to government data released on Wednesday.
While the numbers of arrests dipped slightly compared to July, they represent an increase from August 2019 when numbers had spiked before the coronavirus pandemic reduced migration around the world. The border arrests have hovered around 20-year highs in recent months.
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol apprehended over 210,000 migrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in July, a number Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called “unprecedented.”
Many asylum seeking migrants from Central America were sent back to Mexico under the controversial Title 42, that allows border agents to quickly expel most migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border because of the pandemic.
Many expelled migrants currently are living in tents in towns like Reynosa, Mexico.
A top DHS official said only 16,000 migrants have been given humanitarian exemptions under the Biden administration, a tiny fraction of the nearly 500,000 migrants encountered at the border since February.
U.S. border authorities reportedly arrested or turned away 188,800 migrants from the US-Mexico border in June, the highest monthly number in at least a decade.
The U.S. says it is deterring migration while targeting its root causes. Many migrants are still living in tents and on beds in public squares in Mexico as they wait to seek asylum.