DEL RIO, Texas (AP) – The United States on Sunday returned Haitians camped in a Texas border town to their homeland and attempted to prevent others from crossing the border into Mexico in a massive show of force that marked the start of what may be one of the fastest, largest-scale expulsions of migrants or refugees in decades.
More than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince on three flights, and Haiti said six flights were expected on Tuesday. In total, US authorities have decided to deport many of the more than 12,000 migrants camped around a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after passing through the city of Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.
The only obvious parallel for such a deportation without the possibility of seeking asylum was in 1992 when the coast guard intercepted Haitian refugees at sea, said Yael Schacher, senior United States counsel at Refugees International, whose studies of doctoral studies focused on the history of American asylum law.
Likewise, large numbers of Mexicans were sent home during the peak years of immigration, but by land and not so suddenly.
Central Americans have also crossed the border in comparable numbers without facing mass deportations, although Mexico has agreed to accept them from the United States under pandemic-related authority in effect since March 2020. The Mexico does not accept expelled Haitians or people of other nationalities abroad. from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
When the border was closed on Sunday, migrants first found other means to cross nearby until confronted with federal and state law enforcement. An Associated Press reporter saw Haitian immigrants still crossing the river to the United States about 1.5 miles east of the previous point, but they were eventually stopped by border patrol officers on horseback and Texas law enforcement officials.
As they crossed, some Haitians carried crates full of food on their heads. Some took off their pants before entering the river and put them on. Others weren’t afraid to get wet.
Officers shouted at the waist-deep migrants crossing the river to get out of the water. The few hundred who had made it through and who were sitting along the bank on the American side were sent to the Del Rio camp. “Go now,” the officers shouted. Mexican officials aboard an airboat told others who were trying to cross back to Mexico.
Migrant Charlie Jean had returned from the camps in Ciudad Acuña to collect food for his wife and three daughters, aged 2, 5 and 12. He was waiting on the Mexican side for a restaurant to bring him an order for rice.
“We need food for every day. I can do without it, but my kids can’t, ”said Jean, who had lived in Chile for five years before starting the journey north to the United States. It was not known if he had returned to the camp.
Mexico announced on Sunday that it would also begin to deport Haitians to their homeland. A government official said the flights would come from towns close to the US border and the border with Guatemala, where the largest group remains.
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.
Some migrants from Del Rio camp said the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse made them fearful of returning to a country that seemed 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.
Since Friday, 3,300 migrants have already been evacuated from the Del Rio camp to planes or detention centers, border patrol chief Raul L. Ortiz said on Sunday. He expected 3,000 of the approximately 12,600 remaining migrants to be moved within the day and aimed for the rest to be gone within the week.
“We are working around the clock to quickly move migrants out of the heat, elements and under this bridge to our processing facilities to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States in accordance with our laws and policies,” Ortiz said at a press conference at the Del Rio Bridge. The Texas city of about 35,000 people is located approximately 230 kilometers west of San Antonio.
The United States expected to soon double its daily flights to at least six, according to a US official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The starting cities were still being determined on Sunday.
Six flights were planned in Haiti on Tuesday – three in Port-au-Prince and three in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, said Jean Négot Bonheur Delva, director of migration for Haiti.
The swift deportations were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by former President Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows migrants to be immediately expelled from the country without the ability to seek asylum. President Joe Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the order but left the rest in place.
Any Haitian not deported is subject to immigration laws, which include the right to seek asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. Families are quickly released in the United States as the government generally cannot detain children.
Some people arriving on the first flight covered their heads as they entered a large bus parked next to the plane. Dozens of people lined up to receive a plate of rice, beans, chicken and plantains as they wondered where they would sleep and how they would earn money to support their families.
All received $ 100 and have been tested for COVID-19, although authorities have not planned to quarantine them, said Marie-Lourde Jean-Charles of the National Migration Office.
Gary Monplaisir, 26, said his parents and sister live in Port-au-Prince, but that he was not sure he would stay with them because to join their home, him, his wife and their daughter. 5-year-olds would pass through a gang-controlled area called Martissant where murders are rife.
“I’m scared,” he said. “I don’t have a plan.”
He moved to Chile in 2017, just as he was about to earn an accounting degree, to work as a tow truck driver. He then paid for his wife and daughter to join him. They tried to reach the United States because he thought he could find a better paying job and help his family in Haiti.
“We are always looking for better opportunities,” he said.
Some migrants said they plan to leave Haiti again as soon as possible. Valeria Ternission, 29, said she and her husband wanted to return to Chile with their 4-year-old son, where she worked as a cashier in a bakery.
“I am really worried, especially for the child,” she said. “I can’t do anything here.”
Lozano reported from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, Sanon from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Spagat from San Diego. Associated Press editors Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Maria Verza in Mexico City also contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration