administration said Saturday it was accelerating deportation flights and
sending 400 federal agents to Del Rio to seize control of an escalating
crisis as thousands of mostly Haitian immigrants continued streaming to
the Texas city’s border, camping out in squalid conditions under its
Customs and Border Protection temporarily shuttered its ports of entry there late Friday
and re-routed international traffic 57 miles east to the nearby city of
Eagle Pass, a move local officials worried could cost millions in trade
losses if the closure lasts.
coordinating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Coast
Guard to move migrants from Del Rio to other processing locations,
Department of Homeland Security officials said in the statement Saturday.
About 2,000 had already been transferred, but overnight the camp grew
to more than 14,600 migrants — the most Val Verde County has ever seen
at once, local officials said. DHS said it was securing extra
transportation to expedite deportation flights to Haiti and other
countries in the next 72 hours.
The situation in Del
Rio, nearly three hours west of San Antonio, spiraled this week as more
than 15,000 migrants, many of them from Haiti, arrived at the border in
recent days, settling in a makeshift camp under the bridge as they
waited for CBP agents to process their petitions to stay in the United
States. Conditions quickly deteriorated, and Gov. Greg Abbott sent
National Guard and Department of Public Safety troopers to assist
federal agents in securing the area. The number of migrants arriving
there nearly doubled over the past few days, said Val Verde County Judge
Lewis Owens, a Democrat.
“The numbers are just staggering,” he said.
He said 10 more
buses carrying migrants arrived at the border city overnight and two
more Saturday, blaming his Mexican counterpart in Ciudad Acuña for not
doing more to stop through-migration on that country’s side. Most of the
migrants are of Haitian origin, with the remainder largely from Cuba,
Venezuela and Honduras, he said.
“We have 15,000
people here and why did they come to Del Rio? They came to Del Rio and
crossed to Del Rio because the Mexican government allowed it to happen
on the Mexican side,” Owens said. “Nobody has ever seen something like
this here, in terms of the scale.”
Acuña Mayor Roberto De los Santos Vásquez could not immediately be reached for comment.
U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales,
a San Antonio Republican whose south Texas border district includes Del
Rio, said the Biden administration’s processing of 2,000 migrants in 24
hours was a remarkable feat and praised its decision to speed up
expulsion flights. He said as many as 10 flights from Del Rio were
planned for the next week.
But he urged the
White House to rapidly re-implement a controversial Trump-era policy
known as “Remain in Mexico,” or the Migrant Protection Protocols, that
forced migrants to wait in Mexico while they pursued their asylum cases
in the U.S. Biden had rescinded the policy, but a string of recent court rulings have ordered the administration to implement it once more.
“The sooner the
administration can reinstall the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, that will
help alleviate some of that stress in Del Rio, and I think the
administration is going to have no choice,” Gonzales said.
He said many of the
migrants arriving in Del Rio were originally from Haiti but had fled
after that country’s devastating 2010 earthquake and lived elsewhere in
Central and South America, complicating their quick return to Haiti. He
noted the organized nature of this recent migration wave, in which
Haitian migrants were arriving by busloads and with specific
instructions sent through Whatsapp.
“This goes well
beyond Haiti and goes well beyond Del Rio,” Gonzales said. “It's kind of
a blueprint for the next border community and the next foreign
community coming here.”
administration’s efforts Saturday to quickly return these migrants come
as the White House continues to use a pandemic health order issued by
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year and known as Title 42
to rapidly expel migrants to Mexico or their home countries without the
opportunity to ask for asylum. A federal judge last week blocked the
Biden administration from using Title 42 to expel migrant families but
stayed the order for 14 days. The Biden administration appealed that ruling Friday.
“The majority of
migrants continue to be expelled under CDC’s Title 42 authority. Those
who cannot be expelled under Title 42 and do not have a legal basis to
remain will be placed in expedited removal proceedings,” DHS officials
said in Saturday’s statement. “The Biden Administration has reiterated
that our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous
Late Saturday, law
enforcement had set up barricades on the state road heading toward the
bridge. Parked Department of Public Safety patrol cars blocked any
Fleets of law
enforcement and emergency vehicles drove around throughout the day
retrieving migrants, some of whom passed out from dehydration in the
camp, local officials said. In the past week, at least five migrants
from the camp have given birth in Del Rio Hospitals, the Val Verde
County judge said.
arrived in Del Rio in past years, but this is the first time the city
has seen so many at once, officials and residents here said. The
situation has aggravated tensions here between those who want to help
migrants and those who want them immediately sent back. A few dozen
residents waving U.S. and Trump flags, including Alma Arredondo Lynch,
protested Saturday about what she called the diversion of local
resources to help migrants.
who are released only pass through Del Rio, taking flights or charter
buses to their final destinations across the country to reunite with
their families already in the U.S.
Santiago Pardo, a
volunteer with the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, said he flew
from Chicago to help because he said it was his “responsibility to
protect those who request protection and treat humans as humans.”
“Everyone is an immigrant. For some of us it's one generation back, for some people it’s like 20 generations back,” he said.
Some say Del Rio is a welcoming town but simply doesn’t have the resources to accommodate so many migrants.
“We want to
help, but at the same we have to realize our capabilities and capacity,”
said Francisco Lopez Jr., chair of the Val Verde County Republican
Stelin Jean, 29, has
been camping underneath Del Rio’s international bridge since earlier
this week with his wife, their daughter and his wife’s son. The Haitian
family fled their country for Bolivia in July before making the trek to
Jean said he hopes that relatives in New York find an immigration attorney who can help them find a way to stay in the U.S.
“I’m afraid,” Jean said. “We have two children and there’s no quality of life” in Haiti.
island nation was battered by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in August
shortly after its president was assassinated in July, the latest episode
in years of political instability and turmoil. The Biden administration
extended a type of provisional residency known as temporary protected
status to Haitians who arrived in the United States before May and
briefly stopped their deportation flights. Plans to expel them again
have angered advocates.
The crisis in Del Rio
prompted a fresh round of criticism from Republicans, including Abbott,
who has hammered Biden repeatedly for this year’s record border crossing
attempts. Many migrants are immediately sent back under the health
order but increasingly more have been allowed to stay in the United States pending the resolution of their immigration cases.
Speaking in Fort Worth Friday,
Abbott said the U.S. Department of Defense and DHS have told the state
that many migrants will be temporarily relocated to Arizona, California
and perhaps Laredo to relieve pressure in Del Rio.
“But one thing
that we know for a fact and that is, there's nothing but uncertainty and
indecision by the Biden administration about exactly what they're going
to do,” Abbott said.
Del Rio Mayor
Bruno Lozano also declared a local state of disaster Friday and
requested assistance from the state to help deter more migrants from
entering the city. He said the city of 35,000, which already has seen an
unprecedented spike in attempted border crossings this year, expects
8,000 additional migrants to arrive in the coming days.
The Del Rio sector,
which spans 47 mostly rural counties, is the second-busiest CBP sector.
Nearly 215,000 migrants have been apprehended there since October, and
Val Verde County was the first to start prosecuting migrants for
criminal trespassing under a state deterrence initiative Abbott started
Lozano did not immediately return a call seeking comment Saturday but told the Washington Post that the situation was “no longer sustainable or acceptable.”
“We now have
[the equivalent of] one-third of the population of the city of Del Rio,
Texas, in a confined space under the international bridge,” he said. “I
had thought the alarm was set on Monday but this is a nuclear bomb