DEL RIO, Texas – Nehemie Montrose, a mother-to-be from Haiti, stood anxiously outside a respite center for migrants in Del Rio, Texas, waiting for the daily border patrol buses dropping off migrants who had recently crossed the US-Mexico border.
For five days Nehemie, 29, had waited and watched people get off the buses in single file. Again her husband, Josue Macon, was not among them. They had crossed the Rio Grande river that separates Texas from Mexico days earlier and been taken into custody by US border patrol agents. She had not seen him since.
Inside a border patrol station, the couple was separated and Josue was sent to a men’s outdoor holding area, Nehemie said. That was the last she saw of him before she was taken to the center in Del Rio, Texas, where she now waited for any word of his whereabouts.
“Every day I think my husband is coming,” Nehemie said as she sat outside the center on Sunday afternoon. “I wait so much and he doesn’t come.” She clasped her palms together. She had written Josue’s name on one of them with a pen and added a Spanish inscription: “I miss my love. I am suffering so much.”
Cases like Nehemie’s highlight the scramble on the ground as increasing number of migrants arrive at crowded border patrol facilities and US authorities have to make swift case-by-case calls about whom to release, whom to detain and whom to expel.
After US border patrol separated Nehemie and her husband in custody, Nehemie fell asleep for a few hours. When she woke she asked about her husband. She was told he was gone, she said.
In the Spanish she had picked up since leaving Haiti three years earlier, Nehemie said she begged officers for help. She told them she was pregnant, that the couple had planned to go to his family in the United States, whom she had never met. How could she go there without him?
She said her pleas for help went unanswered. Instead, she was put on a bus and taken to the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition (VVBHC), an organization that has been helping released migrants in the border town of Del Rio and runs the respite center. She does not understand why she was released but her husband was not.
US Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on the specifics of Nehemie’s case. It said in a statement that migrants could be released pending an immigration hearing on a “case-by-case” basis, taking into consideration “legal requirements, COVID-19 protocols, changes in Mexican law, US holding capacity and the health situation of the individual.”
The Biden administration has hammered the message that the border is closed and that most arriving migrants, other than children traveling without legal guardians, will be expelled from the country under a Trump-era public health order put in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But in practice, the government is releasing thousands of migrants, mostly families, in Del Rio, the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere, in part due to a change in law in one Mexican state that limits which families the United States can return.
Tiffany Burrow, director of operations for the VVBHC, told Reuters she has seen 100 people released on average per day to the facility since the end of February, mostly Haitian families.
She said cases like Nehemie’s, where released migrants have no idea what has happened to family members they had been traveling with, were a daily occurrence.
On the same