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Biden administration insists border is closed amid removal of Haitian migrants

As the Biden administration scrambles to repatriate more than 10,000 Haitians who gathered in a Texas border town last week to ask for asylum, immigration officials speaking in the town Monday repeated one message: “Our borders are not open. And people should not make the journey.”

Calling the situation “challenging and heartbreaking,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said U.S. Customs and Border Protection has assigned 600 agents to Del Rio, Texas, and is supplying food, water and medics for Haitian migrants, including families with infants, amassed under a bridge just across the Rio Grande from Acuña, Mexico.

With temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Del Rio on Monday, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said at a press briefing that his agency, in coordination with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard, is moving the immigrants from Del Rio to other processing places in Texas.

He said 2,500 had been transported from the site Sunday and the crowd is quickly diminishing as Homeland Security has already started flying people back to Haiti.

The Biden administration is still enforcing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order known as Title 42, initiated last year by former President Donald Trump, under which the United States is promptly expelling most migrants, though not unaccompanied children and some families, without letting them apply for asylum, citing public health concerns amid the pandemic.

“We continue to exercise Title 42 authority,” Mayorkas said Monday. “It is not an immigration authority, but a public health authority to protect the American public, communities along the border and migrants themselves.”

A Washington federal judge last week ordered the Biden administration to stop enforcing Title 42 against asylum-seeking families with children.

The government has already appealed the order from U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, a Bill Clinton appointee. He stayed his injunction until Sept 30 to let the appellate process play out.

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President Joe Biden has struggled to get a handle on this issue as neither Title 42 nor the scorching summer temperatures in the Southwest – a season in which immigration to the U.S. usually slows down – have deterred immigrants from coming to the border and crossing the Rio Grande into Texas.

The Border Patrol has apprehended more than 1.5 million immigrants this fiscal year at the Southwest border, the most since 2000, though most are turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents and requesting asylum, and the numbers are skewed by people who have been arrested repeatedly.

Earlier this year, the White House’s focus was on deterring people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador from traveling to the U.S.

Biden tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with leading those efforts and she tried to send a strong message in a June 7 speech in Guatemala.

"I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come,” Harris said. "The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”

Ortiz, the Border Patrol chief, said Monday that most of the people entering the U.S. this year have been doing so in the agency’s Rio Grande Valley sector and the arrivals have been steady.

But last week’s mass arrival of some 14,000 Haitians in Del Rio, which is 125 miles west of San Antonio, caught the agency off guard and prompted it to shut down Del Rio-Acuña Port of Entry on Sunday and reroute traffic to a crossing in Eagle Pass, 60 miles southeast.

According to Ortiz, immigrants from Haiti and West Africa have traditionally crossed into the U.S. in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector because they have known people who have crossed in the area, and the Mexican town across the border, Acuña, is safe compared to other Mexican border cities where criminal groups have targeted immigrants turned back from the U.S. for kidnapping to extortion.

Ortiz and Mayorkas indicated Monday that Haitians are being falsely told by human smugglers they can qualify for temporary protected status in the U.S.

The government grants such protection to some foreigners who were in the U.S. when natural disasters or wars prevented them from going home. It lets them live in the country without fear of deportation and receive work permits.

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But Mayorkas said only Haitians who were in the U.S. on July 29 qualify for the government’s latest extension of TPS, which was originally granted after a Jan. 10, 2010, earthquake killed 200,000 people in the Caribbean island country.

Mayorkas on Monday repeated the warning Harris gave three months ago.

“If you come to the U.S. illegally you will be returned,” he said. “You will not succeed. You will be endangering your life and the lives of your families.”

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday asked the White House for a presidential disaster declaration for the situation at the border and for three types of federal aid for Val Verde County and the whole state.

“The entrance of illegal immigrants shows no signs of slowing,” the Republican governor wrote in a letter. “This surge poses life-threatening risks to residents of Val Verde County and is quickly overrunning law enforcement and health care and humanitarian resources which were never intended to be used in this capacity.”

Abbott has constantly criticized the Biden administration’s approach to immigration enforcement this year, claiming the president’s “open-border policies” are causing a crisis for Texas border landowners and local law enforcement.

He named border security one of his priorities at the beginning of the Texas Legislature’s regular session this year. Its Republican majority obliged him, approving more than $2 billion for border security, of which $750 million is allocated for construction of fences at the border.

Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in March wherein thousands of Texas state troopers and Texas National Guard troops have been sent to the border to arrest immigrants who have illegally entered the country.

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Border Patrol agents assist Haitian immigrants gathered under an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

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