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Mass Expulsion of Migrant Border Camp in Texas Underway

September 20, 2021 by Reece Nations
U.S. Customs and Border Protection mounted officers attempt to contain migrants as they cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Thousands of Haitian migrants have been arriving to Del Rio, Texas, as authorities attempt to close the border to stop the flow of migrants. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

DEL RIO, Texas — Following the closure of the land bridge that connects the border community of Del Rio, Texas, to Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, on Sunday, thousands of migrants mostly from Haiti are being removed and sent back to their respective countries of origin.

The United States Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations announced the Del Rio point of entry will be temporarily closed while the agency responds to the humanitarian crisis unfolding at the border. Authorized cross-border traffic will be re-routed to the nearby Eagle Pass Port of Entry.

The operation began over the weekend after the Department of Homeland Security issued a multifaceted strategy addressing the increase in migrant encounters near Del Rio. CBP has sent 400 agents and officers to the region and the U.S. Border Patrol is coordinating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as the U.S. Coast Guard in order to move the individuals from Del Rio and send them to processing locations prior to their expulsion.

“This temporary closure and shift is necessary in order for [Customs and Border Protection] to respond to urgent safety and security needs presented by an influx of migrants into Del Rio and is effective immediately,” CBP officials said in a written statement. “It will advance and protect national interests and help ensure the safety of the traveling public, commercial traffic, and CBP employees and facilities.” 

The migrants established an encampment under the Del Rio land bridge while their asylum requests were being processed following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in August. Now, many of the migrants are being deported under U.S. code Title 42 concerning contagion-related expulsions.

Title 42 was enacted in March 2020 by the Trump administration to remove unauthorized border crossers and asylum seekers due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns. Because the provision was issued as a public health directive and not an immigration directive, the removals are considered to be expulsions rather than deportations — meaning the migrants are not afforded the right to make a case to stay in the country before an immigration judge.

In the outline of its new strategy, DHS announced it would secure additional transportation to increase the pace and capacity of removal flights to Haiti and other destinations over the next few days. Already, thousands of refugees have been processed and sent by bus to San Antonio for return flights to their respective countries.

“The majority of migrants continue to be expelled under CDC’s Title 42 authority,” DHS officials said in a written statement. “Those who cannot be expelled under Title 42 and do not have a legal basis to remain will be placed in expedited removal proceedings. DHS is conducting regular expulsion and removal flights to Haiti, Mexico, Ecuador, and Northern Triangle countries.”

The Biden administration is cooperating with “source and transit countries in the region to accept individuals who previously resided in those countries,” DHS officials said in a written statement. Biden is directing U.S. agencies to work with the regional governments to provide assistance to returnees.

Over 320 migrants were returned to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince across three separate flights on Sunday, with at least six more expected to ensue on Tuesday, officials said. The mass expulsions have drawn condemnation and criticism from advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers.

“The Biden administration cannot claim it is doing everything it can to support the Haitian community while continuing to unjustly deport Haitians as the island weathers its worst political, public health and economic crises yet,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who co-chairs the House Haiti Caucus, said in a written statement. “We have a moral obligation to lead with compassion. That means immediately halting the cruel and callous deportations of our Haitian neighbors and leveraging every resource available to support those fleeing the humanitarian crisis on the island.”

Pressley, alongside Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., issued a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra calling for the operation to immediately halt. The letter was signed by 54 Democratic lawmakers and noted that Haiti-bound deportations were halted by the Obama administration for 11 months in Jan. 2010 following the country’s last severe earthquake.

Estimates of the Del Rio encampment’s size vary but are generally believed to have been between 9,000 and 12,000 people. Since Friday, more than 3,300 migrants have been removed from the encampment for processing.

Despite the expulsions, migrants continued to cross over the border into Del Rio over the weekend. At least 100 Haitians — some with young children — choose to cross back into Mexico on Sunday evening, according to Reuters.

“We have a responsibility, rooted in both the law and our values, to protect the most vulnerable and ensure that we never knowingly send anyone back to harm,” Kids in Need of Defense President Wendy Young said in a written statement. “The Biden administration [sic] is completely disregarding these obligations by returning planeloads of Haitians to danger and interdicting them at sea. The administration should recognize the dire humanitarian crisis in Haiti and stop returns now. Policies designed to deter people fleeing for their lives do not work, but rather exacerbate their desperation. There is no other moral course of action.” 

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