U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it has closed two-way vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the Del Rio Bridge.
THIS IS A CURRENT UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.
Thousands of Haitian migrants gathered under and around a bridge in a small Texas border town as chaos unfolded on Friday and presented the Biden administration with a new challenge as it tries to deal with large numbers. asylum seekers who have reached American soil.
Haitians crossed the Rio Grande freely and in a steady stream, back and forth between the United States and Mexico in knee-deep water, with some parents carrying young children on their shoulders. Unable to obtain supplies from the United States, they briefly returned to Mexico to collect food and cardboard to settle, at least temporarily, under or near the bridge in Del Rio, a city of 35,000 that was severely strained by the flow of migrants in recent months.
The migrants pitched tents and built makeshift shelters from giant reeds known as the carrizo cane. Many bathed and washed clothes in the river.
The vast majority of the estimated 12,000 migrants on the bridge on Friday were Haitians, said Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, who is the county’s top elected official and whose jurisdiction includes Del Rio. Some families have been under the bridge for six days.
The garbage piles were 3.1 meters wide and at least two women gave birth, including one who tested positive for COVID-19 after being taken to hospital, Owens said.
Haitians emigrated to the United States In large numbers South America for several years, many of them having left the Caribbean nation after a devastating earthquake in 2010. After jobs were lost since the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, many have made the dangerous journey on foot, by bus and by car to the United States border, including by the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
It is unclear how so many amassed so quickly, although many Haitians have gathered in camps on the Mexican side of the border, including in Tijuana, across from San Diego, to wait before deciding. whether or not to attempt to enter the United States.
The US Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment. “We will respond to them accordingly,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on MSNBC.
The Federal Aviation Administration, acting at the request of a border patrol, has restricted drone flights around the bridge until September 30, generally prohibiting operations at 305 meters or less, except for security or enforcement reasons. of the law.
Some Haitians in the camp have lived in Mexican towns on the US border for some time, moving between them often, while others have recently arrived after being stranded near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, said Nicole Phillips, legal director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance advocacy group. . A sense of hopelessness spread after the Biden administration ended his practice to admit asylum-seeking migrants deemed particularly vulnerable on a daily basis.
“People are panicking about the way they seek refuge,” Phillips said.
Edgar Rodríguez, lawyer for the Casa del Migrante migrant shelter in Piedras Negras, north of Del Rio, noticed an increase in the number of Haitians in the area two or three weeks ago and believes disinformation may have played a role . Migrants often make decisions on false rumors that policies are about to change and that enforcement policies vary from city to city.
U.S. authorities are under strain after President Joe Biden quickly dismantled Trump administration policies Biden considered cruel or inhumane, including requiring asylum seekers to stay in Mexico pending court hearings American Immigration. These migrants have been exposed to extreme violence in Mexico and have encountered extraordinary difficulties in finding lawyers.
The United States Supreme Court last month let rest a judge’s order to restore the police, although Mexico must agree to the terms. The Justice Department said in a court file this week that discussions with the Mexican government were ongoing.
A pandemic-related order to immediately deport migrants without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum that was introduced in March 2020 remains in place, but unaccompanied children and many families have been exempted. During his first month in office, Biden chose to exempt children traveling alone on humanitarian grounds.
The US government has been unable to deport many families from Central America because Mexican authorities have largely refused to accept them in Tamaulipas state, located across the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, the most frequented for illegal crossings. Thusday, a federal judge in Washington has ruled out the administration from applying Title 42, as the authority over the pandemic is known, to all families.
Mexico has agreed to only accept families deported from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, creating an opening for Haitians and other nationalities as the United States does not have the necessary resources. to detain and expel them quickly on flights to their country of origin.
In August, the American authorities migrants arrested nearly 209,000 times at the border, which was close to a peak in 20 years, even though many stops involved repeat transgressors, as there are no legal consequences for being deported under the authority of the title 42.
People crossing as a family were arrested 86,487 times in August, but less than one in five encounters resulted in a Title 42 deportation. The rest were treated under immigration laws. usually means they were released with a court date or notice. report to immigration authorities.
American authorities arrested Haitians 7,580 times in August, a figure that has increased every month since August 2020, when they only stopped 55. There have also been significant increases in Ecuadorians, Venezuelans and other nationalities outside the traditional sending countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Immigration judges have ruled on more than 32,000 Haitian asylum-seeking cases since 2001, dismissing applications about 80 percent of the time, according to data compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
Spagat reported from San Diego. Associated Press editors Paul Weber in Austin, Ben Fox in Washington, David Koenig in Dallas, and Maria Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Eric Gay and Elliot Spagat, Associated Press