By James Dobbins, Natalie Kitroeff, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Edgar Sandoval and Miriam Jordan for The New York Times
DEL RIO, Texas — They have arrived this week by the thousands, Haitians who had heard of an easy way into the United States. In what appeared to be an endless procession across the shallow waters of the Rio Grande, they carried mattresses, fruit, diapers and blankets, provisions to tide them over while they awaited their turn to plead for entry into America.
For so many, it had been a journey years in the making.
“A friend of mine told me to cross here. I heard it was easier,” said Mackenson, a 25-year-old Haitian who spoke on the condition that his last name not be published. He and his pregnant wife had traveled from Tapachula, Mexico, near the country’s border with Guatemala, where they had been living after earlier stops over the last three years in Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Panama. “It took us two months to get here on foot and by bus.”
This week, the couple joined an estimated 14,000 other migrants who have converged upon the border community of Del Rio, a surge that has overwhelmed local officials and the authorities and comes amid a staggering spike in border crossings this year. On Friday morning, as the summer sun beat down, the couple found a moment of solace in the shade of the Del Rio International Bridge, which had quickly become a very crowded staging area, with migrants jostling for a patch of dirt to sit and rest.
By Friday evening, federal authorities had closed the entrance to the bridge and were routing traffic 57 miles away to Eagle Pass, Texas, saying it was necessary to “respond to urgent safety and security needs presented” by the influx and would “protect national interests.”
The rise in Haitian migration began in the months after President Biden took office and quickly began reversing former President Donald J. Trump’s strictest immigration policies, which was interpreted by many as a sign that the United States would be more welcoming to migrants. In May, the administration extended temporary protected status for the 150,000 Haitians already living in the country. But tens of thousands have attempted to cross into the United States since then despite not qualifying for the program.
“False information, misinformation and misunderstanding might have created a false sense of hope,” said Guerline M. Jozef, the executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an organization that works with migrants.
Mr. Biden’s term has coincided with a sharp deterioration in the political and economic stability of Haiti, leaving parts of its capital under the control of gangs and forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes. The assassination of Haiti’s president and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake this summer have only added to the pressures causing people to leave the country. Shortly after the assassination, hundreds of Haitians flocked to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, many carrying packed suitcases and small children, after false rumors spread on social media that the Biden administration was handing out humanitarian visas to Haitians in need.
Most of the Haitians in Mexico — a country that has intercepted nearly 4,000 this year — were not coming directly from Haiti, but from South America, where, like Mackenson, they had already been living and working, according to a top official in the Mexican foreign ministry. The number of Haitians heading northward across the border that separates Colombia and Panama — often by traversing the treacherous jungle known as the Darién Gap — has also surged in recent years, increasing from just 420 in 2018 to more than 42,300 through August of this year, according to the Panamanian government. Continue reading