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US Plans for Haitian Migrant Expulsions09/18 10:34

   

   DEL RIO, Texas (AP) -- The Biden administration worked Saturday on plans to 
send many of the thousands of Haitian immigrants who have gathered in a Texas 
border city back to their Caribbean homeland, in a swift response to the huge 
influx of people who suddenly crossed the border from Mexico and congregated 
under and around a bridge.

   Details were yet to be finalized but would likely involve five to eight 
flights per day that would begin Sunday, according to an official with direct 
knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly 
and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. San Antonio, 
the nearest major city to Del Rio, where the migrants have gathered, could be 
among the departure cities.

   The official said Friday that operational capacity and Haiti's willingness 
would determine the number of flights, but that "good progress" was being made.

   Another administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity 
expected two flights per day, at most, and said all migrants would be tested 
for COVID-19.

   U.S. authorities closed traffic to vehicles and pedestrians in both 
directions Friday at the only border crossing in Del Rio after the chaotic 
influx of migrants presented the administration with a new and immediate 
challenge as it tries to manage large numbers of asylum-seekers who have been 
reaching U.S. soil.

   U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was closing the border crossing 
with Ciudad Acua, Mexico, "to respond to urgent safety and security needs." 
Travelers were being directed to a crossing in Eagle Pass, 57 miles (91 
kilometers) away.

   Haitians on Friday crossed the Rio Grande freely and in a steady stream, 
going back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico through knee-deep water, with 
some parents carrying small children on their shoulders. Unable to buy supplies 
in the U.S., they returned briefly to Mexico for food and cardboard to settle, 
temporarily at least, under or near the bridge in Del Rio, a city of 35,000 
that has been severely strained by migrant flows in recent months.

   Migrants pitched tents and built makeshift shelters from giant reeds known 
as carrizo cane. Many bathed and washed clothing in the river.

   The vast majority of the migrants at the bridge on Friday were Haitian, said 
Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, who is the county's top elected official 
and whose jurisdiction includes Del Rio. Some families had been under the 
bridge for as long as six days.

   Trash piles were 10 feet (3.1 meters) wide, and at least two women had given 
birth, including one who tested positive for COVID-19 after being taken to a 
hospital, Owens said.

   The county's sheriff, Frank Joe Martinez, estimated the crowd to be 13,700 
and said more Haitians were traveling through Mexico by bus.

   The flight plan, while potentially massive in scale, hinges on how Haitians 
respond. They might have to decide whether to stay put at the risk of being 
sent back to an impoverished homeland wracked by poverty and political 
instability or return to Mexico. Unaccompanied children are exempt from 
fast-track expulsions.

   About 500 Haitians were ordered off buses by Mexican immigration authorities 
in the state of Tamaulipas, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) south of the Texas 
border, the state government said in a news release Friday. They continued 
toward the border on foot.

   Haitians have been migrating to the U.S. in large numbers from South America 
for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating 
earthquake in 2010. 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 U.S. border, 
including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.

   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, 
including in Tijuana, across from San Diego, to wait while deciding whether to 
attempt to enter the United States.

   The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for 
comment. "We will address it accordingly," Homeland Security Secretary 
Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday on MSNBC.

   An official in President Joe Biden's administration who wasn't authorized to 
address the matter publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity said the 
action is not targeting Haitians specifically and does not reflect a policy 
shift, just a continuation of normal practices.

   The Federal Aviation Administration, acting on a Border Patrol request, 
restricted drone flights around the bridge until Sept. 30, generally barring 
operations at or below 1,000 feet (305 meters) unless for security or law 
enforcement purposes.

   Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican and frequent critic of President Joe 
Biden, said federal officials told him migrants under the bridge would be moved 
by the Defense Department to Arizona, California and elsewhere on the Texas 
border.

   Some Haitians at the camp have lived in Mexican cities along the U.S. border 
for some time, moving often between them, while others arrived recently after 
being stuck near Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, said Nicole Phillips, 
the legal director for advocacy group Haitian Bridge Alliance. A sense of 
desperation spread after the Biden administration ended its practice of 
admitting asylum-seeking migrants daily who were deemed especially vulnerable.

   "People are panicking on how they seek refuge," Phillips said.

   Edgar Rodrguez, lawyer for the Casa del Migrante migrant shelter in Piedras 
Negras, north of Del Rio, noticed an increase of Haitians in the area two or 
three weeks ago and believes that misinformation may have played a part. 
Migrants often make decisions on false rumors that policies are about to change 
and that enforcement policies vary by city.

   U.S. authorities are being severely tested after Biden quickly dismantled 
Trump administration policies that Biden considered cruel or inhumane, most 
notably one requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting for U.S. 
immigration court hearings. Such migrants have been exposed to extreme violence 
in Mexico and faced extraordinary difficulty in finding attorneys.

   The U.S Supreme Court last month let stand a judge's order to reinstate the 
policy, though Mexico must agree to its terms. The Justice Department said in a 
court filing this week that discussions with the Mexican government were 
ongoing.

   A pandemic-related order to immediately expel migrants without giving them 
the opportunity to seek asylum that was introduced in March 2020 remains in 
effect, but unaccompanied children and many families have been exempt. During 
his first month in office, Biden chose to exempt children traveling alone on 
humanitarian grounds.

   The U.S. government has been unable to expel many Central American families 
because Mexican authorities have largely refused to accept them in Tamaulipas, 
which is across from Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal 
crossings. On Friday, the administration said it would appeal a judge's 
Thursday ruling that blocked it from applying Title 42, as the pandemic-related 
authority is known, to any families.

   Mexico has agreed to take expelled families only from Mexico, Guatemala, 
Honduras and El Salvador, creating an opening for Haitians and other 
nationalities because the U.S. lacks the resources to detain and quickly expel 
them on flights to their homelands.

   In August, U.S. authorities stopped migrants nearly 209,000 times at the 
border, which was close to a 20-year high even though many of the stops 
involved repeat crossers because there are no legal consequences for being 
expelled under Title 42 authority.

   People crossing in families were stopped 86,487 times in August, but fewer 
than one out of every five of those encounters resulted in expulsion under 
Title 42. The rest were processed under immigration laws, which typically means 
they were released with a court date or a notice to report to immigration 
authorities.

   U.S. authorities stopped Haitians 7,580 times in August, a figure that has 
increased every month since August 2020, when they stopped only 55. There have 
also been major increases of Ecuadorians, Venezuelans and other nationalities 
outside the traditional sending countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El 
Salvador.

 
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