Updated September 19, 2021, 12:42 p.m. ET
DEL RIO, Texas – Some of the thousands of Haitian migrants who crossed Mexico on their way to a border camp in Texas were repatriated Sunday by the United States to their poverty-stricken homeland in an attempt to deter others from enter the country.
A US official told The Associated Press that three flights had departed San Antonio for Port-au-Prince and would arrive in the afternoon. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Many migrants have lived in Latin America for years, but now seek asylum in the United States as economic opportunities in Brazil and elsewhere dry up. Thousands of people live under and near a bridge in the border town of Del Rio, Texas, and many of them said they would not be deterred by the US plans.
Some have said that the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse make them fearful of returning to a country that seems more unstable than when they left.
“In Haiti, there is no security,” said Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian who arrived in Texas with his wife and two daughters. “The country is in a political crisis.
Dozens of people crossed the Rio Grande on Saturday, returning to Mexico to buy water, food and diapers in Ciudad Acuña before returning to the Texas encampment.
Junior Jean, a 32-year-old man from Haiti, watched as people carefully carried crates of water or bags of food through the river water up to their knees. Jean said he has lived on the streets in Chile for the past four years, resigned to looking for food in the trash.
“We are all looking for a better life,” he said.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry wrote on Twitter on Sunday that he was concerned about the conditions in the border camp and that migrants would be welcome back.
“We want to reassure them that measures have already been taken to offer them a better welcome on their return home and that they will not be left behind,” he tweeted. Henry did not provide details on the measurements. A Haitian government spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
Another Haitian political leader asked on Sunday if the nation can handle an influx of returning migrants and said the government should stop the repatriation.
“We have the situation in the south with the earthquake. The economy is a disaster, (and) there are no jobs, ”said election minister Mathias Pierre, adding that most Haitians cannot meet basic needs. “The Prime Minister should negotiate with the US government to stop these deportations at this time of crisis.”
The US Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday it had moved around 2,000 migrants from the camp to other locations on Friday for processing and possible deportation. A statement from the agency also said it would have 400 agents and officers in the area by Monday morning and send more if necessary.
The announcement marked a swift response to the sudden arrival of Haitians in Del Rio, a Texas town of about 35,000 people about 145 miles west of San Antonio. It sits on a relatively remote portion of the border that does not have the capacity to accommodate and process such a large number of people.
Haitians have migrated to the United States in large numbers from South America for several years, many having left their Caribbean countries after a devastating earthquake in 2010. After jobs have dried up since the Olympic Games d he summer of 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, many made the dangerous journey by foot, bus and car to the US border, including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
US Customs and Border Protection on Friday closed two-way vehicle and pedestrian traffic at the only border crossing between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña “to meet urgent safety and security needs” and it remained closed on Saturday . Travelers were directed indefinitely to a passage at Eagle Pass, about 55 miles away.
Crowd estimates varied, but Del Rio mayor Bruno Lozano said on Saturday evening that there were more than 14,500 immigrants in the camp under the bridge. The migrants pitched tents and built makeshift shelters from giant reeds known as the carrizo cane. Many bathed and washed clothes in the river.
It is not known how such a large number amassed so quickly, although many Haitians have gathered in camps on the Mexican side of the border to wait before deciding to attempt to enter the United States.
The number of Haitian arrivals started 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 for help at headquarters, according to a US official who was not authorized to discuss. the matter publicly.
Since then, the agency has transferred Haitians in buses and vans to other border patrol facilities in Texas, particularly El Paso, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. They are mostly processed outside of government authority related to the pandemic, which means they can seek asylum and remain in the United States while their claims are considered. The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes custody decisions, but families generally cannot be detained for more than 20 days under a court order.
The internal security plan announced on Saturday signals a shift to using pandemic-related authority for immediate deportation to Haiti without the possibility of seeking asylum, the official said.
The flights planned, although potentially massive, depend on the response of Haitians. They may have to decide to stay put at the risk of being returned to an impoverished homeland or returning to Mexico. Unaccompanied minors are exempt from accelerated deportations.
Homeland Security said in a statement that “our borders are not open and people should not be making the dangerous journey.”
“Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including deportation,” the agency wrote.