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US will send back thousands of Haitian migrants in Texas town

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-09-20 09:07

A migrant man asylum seeker walks through the Rio Grande river to cross the border between Ciudad Acuna, Mexico and Del Rio, Texas, US, after buying supplies at the Mexican side, in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, on Sept 19, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

The Biden administration has sent in 400 additional border agents over the weekend to the Texas border town of Del Rio to help processing and sending back thousands of migrants -most of them Haitians — who have congregated under a border bridge to seek asylum.

Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano put the number of migrants waiting to be processed at more than 14,000 at a news conference on Saturday.

A crisis in Haiti has triggered a mass exodus of Haitians fleeing the country. In July, Haiti's president was assassinated by a group of foreign mercenaries. In August, a major earthquake and powerful storm devastated the Caribbean country which makes up the western side of the island of Hispaniola, with the Dominican Republic on the eastern part.

To escape chaos and violence in their own country, thousands of Haitians made the journey to the US border and gathered under the Del Rio international bridge to be processed by the US Custom and Border Protection (CBP). Thousands more are expected to join them.

Del Rio is a small border town with a population of 35,000 in a relatively remote region and only 145 miles from San Antonio.

On Friday, Del Rio Mayor Lozano declared a local state of disaster and decided to close the toll booths on the international bridge connecting the city to Ciudad Acuña in Mexico to stop traffic across the bridge as a security measure.

Later, US Customs and Border Protection announced that the port of entry at Del Rio border bridge is temporarily closed.

"This temporary closure and shift is necessary in order for CBP to respond to urgent safety and security needs presented by an influx of migrants into Del Rio and is effective immediately," the agency said in a statement on Friday.

The border traffic has been rerouted from Del Rio to Eagle Pass which is about 55 miles away to ensure uninterrupted flow of trade and travel.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement Saturday that the 400 border agents would be deployed within 24-48 hours. If additional staff is needed, more will be sent.

DHS said that US Border Patrol is coordinating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Coast Guard to move individuals from Del Rio to other processing locations to "to ensure that irregular migrants are swiftly taken into custody, processed, and removed from the United States consistent with our laws and policy".

More than 2,000 migrants had been moved to other locations for processing and possible removal on Friday, according to DHS.

DHS is also increasing the capacity of removal flights to Haiti and other destinations in the hemisphere "within the next 72 hours", the statement said, adding that "the White House has directed appropriate US agencies to work with the Haitian and other regional governments to provide assistance and support to returnees".

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said on Twitter on Saturday that "arrangements have already been made to offer them a better welcome on their return to the country and that they will not be left behind".

"I share their suffering, while saying welcome to them. Home is home," Henry continued.

NPR reported that some Haitian migrants remain undeterred to seek asylum after being told of the US plan to send them back, saying they were afraid to return to a country that seems more unstable than when they left.

"In Haiti, there is no security," Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian who came with his wife and two daughters, told NPR. "The country is in a political crisis."

Reuters reported that many interviewed Haitians said they used to live in South America and were headed north now because they could not attain legal status or find decent jobs. Some said they followed routes shared on WhatsApp to reach Del Rio.

The majority of migrants will be expelled under CDC's Title 42 authority issued by the Trump administration, which allows most migrants to be quickly expelled without a chance of claiming asylum. DHS intends to remove those who cannot be expelled under Title 42 but have no legal basis to remain through expedited removal proceedings.

The Biden administration has kept Title 42 intact with the exception applied to minors only. A federal judge in Washington ruled last Thursday that the policy could not be applied to families. However, the ruling does not go into effect for two weeks, and the Biden administration appealed the ruling last Friday.

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