Thousands of Haitian migrants who set up camp underneath a bridge in a small Texas town on the United States-Mexico border have begun wading their way back across the Rio Grande to Mexico to avoid deportation.
Photos from Del Rio, Texas show thousands of Haitians, mostly men, moving across a yellow string across the waterway, with some holding children and supplies above their heads.
It comes as the Biden administration announced it will step up its deportation efforts of the nearly 12,000 mostly Haitian migrants, with administration officials saying they plan to begin sending out seven flights a day by Wednesday – four of which would go to Port-au-Prince and three of which would go to Cap-Haitien.
Six planes are expected to arrive in the Caribbean nation on Tuesday, according to the New York Post.
The migrants had been crossing back and forth between Mexico and the United States for days to collect supplies
They were seen moving across a yellow string across the river, with some holding children and supplies above their heads
A woman was seen swimming through the river on Monday as U.S. authorities began deporting immigrants
Thousands of Haitian migrants began crossing the Rio Grande back into Mexico on Monday, as the United States ramps up its deportation efforts
So far this year, about 19,000 Haitian migrants have requested asylum in Mexico
The spike comes as the United States is set to send more planes with deported migrants back to the country
A few thousand Haitians arrived in Del Rio, west of San Antonio, but over the course of a few days, the number of migrants living under the bridge ballooned, forcing the Biden administration to close an entry point, reroute traffic, deploy more Border Patrol agents and begin deportation flights.
Many of those who lived in the camp trekked to the United States from South and Central America, where they had been living since escaping Haiti following a devastating earthquake in 2010.
Others fled to the United States after another devastating earthquake killed more than 2,000 people in the island nation and amid the political turmoil caused by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in his home the month before.
But as of Monday, more than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have been removed from the camp that once housed nearly 15,000 migrants, the Associated Press reports.
The rapid expulsions were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by former President Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows migrants to be immediately removed from the country without an opportunity to seek asylum.
A federal judge has ordered the Biden administration to stop using the provision to deport families, but stayed the order until the end of September. The Biden administration has appealed the ruling.
Of the roughly 11,000 migrants who remain, 8,000 are part of family groups, according to the Washington Post.
About 15 percent of the Haitian migrants in Mexico have accepted refuge there
But on Sunday, US officials announced that anyone who crosses into Mexico will not be allowed back into the United States
Members of a soccer team prepare food for migrants seeking refuge in U.S. who cross the Rio Grande river into the Mexican side looking for supplies at the Ecological Park Braulio Hernandez, in Ciudad Acuna
Haitian immigrants fell in the mud after wading across the Rio Grande back into Mexico from Del Rio, Texas on September 20
Robins Exile, of Haiti, eats at a Haitian restaurant on Monday in Tijuana, Mexico
A Haitian man is detained by Mexican immigration officials near the Mexico-US border in Ciudad Acuna
Some Haitian men were seen struggling with Mexican immigration officials
Now, thousands of others are leaving on their own accord, including Isaac Isner, 30, his wife, Mirdege and their three-year-old daughter Isadora.
The family had been in Del Rio for seven days, but decided to return to Mexico after a friend showed them cellphone footage of the United States deporting migrants.
‘They were putting people on a bus and sent them to Haiti just like that, without signing anything,’ Isner said.
He said his family now has an appointment with Mexico’s asylum agency in the southern city of Tapachula, where they think they could be safe.
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, told the AP about 15 percent of the Haitian migrants in Mexico have accepted refuge there. So far this year, the AP reports, about 19,000 Haitian migrants have requested asylum in Mexico.
‘Mexico does not have any problem with them being in our country as long as they respect Mexico’s laws,’ Ebrard said.
The country was busing Haitian migrants from the border city of Ciudad Acuna, according to Luis Angel Urraza, president of the local chamber of commerce.
A federal official told the AP the plan was to take the migrants to Monterrey, in northern Mexico, and Tapachula, in the south, with flights to Haiti from both those cities set to begin in the coming days.
Some Haitian migrants are now thinking about getting asylum in Mexico
They waded through waist-deep water to avoid deportations
A little girl holds her stuffed animal high above the water
Some carried their belongings in bags they held high over their heads
Migrants seeking refuge in U.S. who cross the Rio Grande river into the Mexican side looking for supplies, lineup to receive food at the Ecological Park Braulio Hernandez, in Ciudad Acuna
Meanwhile, United States officials are trying to warn migrants to not even attempt to enter the country through the southern border, where hundreds of Haitian migrants struggled to bring in food and other supplies from Ciudad Acuna as US officials stepped up its security.
The migrants were originally allowed to cross back and forth between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuna through a shallow part of the river, according to Reuters, but on Sunday, U.S. officials told the migrants they would no longer be able to return to the U.S. if they ventured into Mexico.
Many tried to wade deeper into the water to avoid law enforcement, with some crossing at another point where the water reached their necks.
But on Sunday, mounted Border Patrol officers wearing cowboy hats blocked the path, with one unfurling a cord resembling a whip as he steered his horse to block the migrants from crossing.
One tumbled back into the water as a result, got up and tried again, but the officer swung the cord near his face.
That same officer later grabbed the back of the shirt of a man trying to run up the bank with bags of food.
Both migrants eventually appeared to slip past the officers as they tried to wrangle others, but a group of about two dozen people were later seen seated on the United States side behind yellow tape and near several patrol cars.
U.S. law enforcement officers on horseback stand near a young woman bathing in the Rio Grande
One officer was seen unfurling a cord resembling a whip as he steered his horse to block the migrants from crossing, causing one to fall, before the officer swung the cord near his face
Video footage of the incident appeared to show the agents using their reins as whips to hold the migrants back, as one yelled, ‘This is why your country’s s***, because you use your woman for this.’
Representative Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, later tweeted that the incident constituted a human rights abuse.
‘These are human rights abuses plain and simple,’ she wrote. ‘Cruel, inhumane an a violation of domestic and international law.
‘This needs a course correction and the issuance of a clear directive on ow to humanely process asylum seekers at our border.’
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also tweeted: ‘It doesn’t matter if a Democrat or Republican is president, our immigration system is designed for cruelty towards and dehumanization of immigrants.
‘Immigration should not be a crime, and its criminalization is a relatively recent invention,’ she continued. ‘This is a stain on our country.’
And Senator Chuck Schumer wrote that the images are ‘unacceptable,’ as the migrants are trying to flee ‘violence and natural disaster and [are] seeking protection in our country.’
Several politicians condemned the Border Patrol agent for his behavior on social media
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who went down to Del Rio on Monday to assess the situation, and United States Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said they would look into the situation, but both officials said they saw nothing wrong.
Ortiz said he made the decision to deploy the mounted agents to ‘find out if we had any individuals in distress, and be able to provide information and intelligence as to what the smuggling organizations were doing in and around the river.’
He said he was confident the agents were simply ‘trying to control’ their horses.
And Mayorkas said the agents use long reins, not whips, to control their horses and Ortiz said he would investigate to make sure there were no ‘unacceptable actions’ by the agents.
But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday: ‘I don’t think anyone seeing the footage would think it acceptable or appropriate.’
She deemed the footage ‘horrific’ and said the matter would be investigated.
By Monday evening, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement about the incident.
‘The Department of Homeland Security does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody, and we take these allegations very seriously,’ it read.
‘The footage is extremely troubling and the facts learned from the full investigation, which will be conducted swiftly will define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken.’
The statement also said Mayorkas has directed the department’s internal oversight office to send personnel to the camp to oversee agents’ conduct at all times.
‘We are committed to processing migrants in a safe, orderly and humane way,’ it said.
‘We can and must do this in a way that ensures the safety and dignity of migrants.’
Mayorkas said 600 Homeland Security employees have been brought into Del Rio to deal with the situation.
And at a news conference on Sunday, United States Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said resources were available to those that remained at the camp.
‘We are providing food, water, portable toilets [and] emergency medical technicians are available for first aid,’ he said.
‘Over the next six to seven days, our goal is to process the 12,662 migrants that we have underneath that bridge as quickly as we possibly can,’ he said. ‘What we want is to make sure that we deter the migrants from coming into the region, so we can manage the folks that are under the bridge at this point.’
Members of the National Institute of Migration and police officers detain a migrant as he walks on the streets in Ciudad Acuna Monday night
A member of the National Guard runs during an operative of the National Institute of Migration and police officers to detain migrants in Mexico
A U.S. Border Patrol agents watch as Haitian immigrants cross the Rio Grande back into Mexico
United States officials are also tracking a large group of Haitians gathering in Latin America, including 20,000 in Columbia who may soon try to reach the United States.
They are also monitoring groups of about 1,500 people in Panama and 3,000 in Peru, according to NBC News.
A senior Department of Homeland Security official told the news network it is unclear when and whether they will try to enter the country, but they have already begun ‘staging’ in these various countries, potentially signaling they are planning to travel in large numbers.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned migrants not to come.
‘Now is not the time to come because of a range of reasons, including we don’t have the immigration system up and running the way we want, including there is still a pandemic and Title 42 remains in place.’
Title 42 was started under former President Donald Trump to refuse entry to migrants entering the country illegally in an effort to stop the spread of COVID.
‘I will say that our objective and our focus is not only in implementing current immigration policies, we have also been working to provide a range of assistance, working closely with officials from the government as individuals are going back to Haiti to provide a range of financial assistance, to provide a range of technical assistance,’ Psaki said on Monday.
‘That is ongoing. And we certainly support and want to be good actors in supporting Haiti during a very difficult time … with a government that is still working to get back to a point of stability with recovery from an earthquake, and that’s why we have a range of programs, options, as well as financial support in place.’