The US is flying Haitians camped in a Texas border town back to their homeland and blocking others from crossing the border from Mexico in a massive show of force in what could become one of America’s swiftest large-scale expulsions of migrants in decades.
ore than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince on three flights on Sunday, and Haiti said six flights were expected on Tuesday. US authorities aim to expel many of more 12,000 migrants camped around a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after crossing from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico.
The US plans to begin seven daily expulsion flights from Wednesday, four to Port-au-Prince and three to Cap-Haitien, according to a US source. Flights will continue to depart from San Antonio but authorities may add El Paso, the official said.
When the border was closed on Sunday, the migrants initially found other ways to cross the Rio Grande nearby until they were confronted by federal and state law enforcement.
An Associated Press reporter saw Haitians still crossing the river into the US about 1.5 miles east of the previous spot, but they were eventually stopped by Border Patrol agents on horseback and Texas law enforcement officials.
Agents shouted at the migrants who were crossing in the waist-deep river to get out of the water. The several hundred who had crossed and were sitting along the river bank on the US side were ordered to the Del Rio camp.
Mexico said on Sunday it would also begin deporting Haitians to their homeland. A government official said the flights would be from towns near the US border and the border with Guatemala, where the largest group remains.
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.
Some of the migrants at the Del Rio camp said the recent 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.
Since Friday, 3,300 migrants have already been removed from the Del Rio camp to planes or detention centres, Border Patrol Chief Raul L Ortiz said on Sunday.
He expected to have 3,000 of the approximately 12,600 remaining migrants moved within a day, and aimed for the rest to be gone within the week.
“We are working around the clock to expeditiously move migrants out of the heat, elements and from underneath this bridge to our processing facilities in order to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States consistent with our laws and our policies,” he said at news conference at the Del Rio bridge.
The Texas city of about 35,000 people is about 145 miles west of San Antonio.
The rapid expulsions were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by former president Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows for migrants to be immediately removed from the country without an opportunity to seek asylum.
President Joe Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the order but let the rest stand.
Any Haitians not expelled are subject to immigration laws, which include rights to seek asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. Families are quickly released in the US because the government cannot generally hold children.