US closes part of Texas border, begins flying Haitians home

AP/Del Rio, Texas
Filed on September 19, 2021
Migrants find an alternate place to cross from Mexico to the United States after access to a dam was closed. — AP

Texas officials block a dam from where migrants walk into the US as Mexican official says migrants won't be allowed to cross anymore

The United States blocked the Mexican border on Sunday at an isolated Texas town where thousands of Haitian refugees have crossed and set up a camp, hoping to stop the flow of migrants as officials also began flying some of the migrants back to their homeland.

About a dozen Texas Department of Public Safety vehicles lined up near the bridge and river where Haitians have been crossing from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas, for almost three weeks. Yellow police tape is being used to block them from using a small dam to walk into the US.

A Mexican police officer on the Mexican side of the border said migrants won’t be allowed to cross anymore. He would not give his name.

Many of the migrants have lived in Latin America for years, but they are now are seeking asylum in the US as economic opportunities in Brazil and elsewhere dry up. Thousands are living under and near a bridge in Del Rio.

Earlier on Sunday, the US sent three flights of Haitians back to their homeland in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

Some Haitians said the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moise make them afraid to return to a country that seems 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.”

Scores of people waded back and forth across the Rio Grande on Saturday, re-entering Mexico to purchase water, food and diapers in Ciudad Acuna before returning to the Texas encampment.

Junior Jean, a 32-year-old man from Haiti, watched as people cautiously carried cases of water or bags of food through the knee-high river water. Jean said he lived on the streets in Chile the past four years, resigned to searching for food in garbage cans.

“We are all looking for a better life,” he said.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry wrote Sunday on Twitter that he is concerned about conditions at the border camp and that the migrants would be welcomed back.

“We want to reassure them that measures have already been taken to give them a better welcome upon their return to the country and that they will not be left behind,” he tweeted. Henry did not provide details about the measures. A Haitian government spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

Another Haitian political leader questioned whether the nation could handle an influx of returning migrants and said the government should stop the repatriation.

“We have the situation in the south with the earthquake. The economy is a disaster, (and) there are no jobs,” Election Minister Mathias Pierre said, adding that most Haitians can’t satisfy basic needs. “The prime minister should negotiate with the US government to stop those deportations in this moment of crises.”

The US Department of Homeland Security said Saturday that it moved about 2,000 migrants from the camp to other locations on Friday for processing and possible removal. A statement from the agency also said it would have 400 agents and officers in the area by Monday morning and would send more if necessary.

Haitians have been migrating to the US in large numbers from South America for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating 2010 earthquake. After jobs dried up from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, many made the dangerous trek by foot, bus and car to the US border, including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.

Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said on Saturday evening there were more than 14,500 immigrants at the camp under the bridge. Migrants pitched tents and built makeshift shelters from giant reeds known as carrizo cane. Many bathed and washed clothing in the river.

It is unclear how such a large number amassed so quickly, though many Haitians have been assembling in camps on the Mexican side of the border to wait while deciding whether to attempt entry into the US.

The planned flights, while potentially massive in scale, hinge on how Haitians respond. They might have to decide whether to stay put at the risk of being sent back to an impoverished homeland or return to Mexico. Unaccompanied children are exempt from fast-track expulsions.

Homeland Security said in a statement that, “our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey”.

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