By Eric Gay and Elliot Spagat for Associated Press News
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 Acuña, 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. Continue reading