border patrol release Haitians
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents drop off migrants at a local gas station, after immigration processing on Sept. 21. These Haitian migrants must find their way to relatives' homes in the U.S. and plan to seek asylum. Photo by Leonardo March

It’s been a long time coming and a long way. But Jean-Misson Bazile made it to America after spending six years in Brazil, where he worked as a machine operator, and making the long trek through several countries to the US border, in search of economic opportunity. 

“The conditions were not good for me,” said Bazile, who traveled with his pregnant partner, Fabiola. “I could not make enough money to help my family. That’s why I’m here, to be in a position to help my family in Haiti.”

Just before 7 p.m. Tuesday, a U.S. Border Patrol bus had dropped off Bazile and about two dozen migrants, mostly Haitian, at a Del Rio, Texas, gas station. The migrants had spent days camped out underneath the Del Río-Ciudad Acuña International Bridge before going through immigration processing. 

The gas station’s parking lot, about four miles from the bridge, doubles as a bus station, where the migrants are expected to find their way to other locations in the U.S. Once at the station, the migrants have no way of caring for their basic needs, including shelter and hygiene. The process, volunteers and government sources say, has existed for at least two years.

As night time approached on Tuesday evening, Bazile and others stood next to his partner Fabiola waiting, as volunteers tried to figure out how they would house him and dozens of others.

Bazile intends to travel to Orlando, Florida, to stay with extended family. However, he needs money to get there and had no place to sleep.

“I spoke to a lady [who] said that tomorrow, a taxi is going to pick us up to take us to a center, and then to an airport,” Bazile said. “For now, we don’t know what we’re going to do.” 

He isn’t the only one. 

After crossing the Rio Grande with his pregnant partner two days prior, Junior, 21, said he had a bus ticket out of Del Rio for Wednesday. Until then, the rest of Tuesday looked uncertain. 

“I’m not sure exactly where I’m going to sleep,” said Junior, who did not share his last name. 

Officials respond to viral images, not basic needs

Numerous elected officials have condemned the viral images of mistreatment and abuse at the border. Vice President Kamala Harris called the footage of Border Patrol agents on horseback using whips to round up migrants “horrible.” She said she supported the ongoing investigation into the alarming conduct.

However, the day-to-day lack of basics falls to volunteers helping migrants with shelter and transportation. They say the government must pay more attention to the plight of asylum seekers once released.

haitian migrants del rio gas station
Valerie Rodriguez, left, from Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, explains the challenges on Sept. 21 to the asylum seekers: No hotel rooms available in the area and no more buses for the day. Photo by Leonardo March

Gesturing south toward the border, where officials are working to clear the migrant camp and deter further border crossings, Alix Desulme, who is vice mayor of North Miami, who came to volunteer help, said immigration officials should do more.

“How are they managing there, and then not over here?” said Desulme, who flew to Texas earlier this week.

The day prior, Desulme said, he dropped asylum seekers off at the Del Rio airport, where 12 migrants were sleeping on the floor.

A Border Patrol official said after processing, asylum seekers are transferred to other agencies. 

“We do release to a non-government organization,” said Stephanie Anaya, Border Patrol assistant chief patrol agent for the Del Rio sector. “Then after that, they’re no longer in our custody.”

Per Border Patrol policy, the Haitians were released to the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, a group composed of local volunteers and agencies, Anaya said. 

Since 2019, when Val Verde began helping, the number of migrants trying to cross the border into Del Rio has increased. In August alone, the most recent month for which data was available, more than 32,300 migrants had been taken into Border Patrol custody, a six-fold increase from August 2020. That was before the recent surge, when media reports showed at least 12,500 migrants crossing the border and camping under the International Bridge this past weekend.  

At the Stripes gas station Border Patrol drop-off point, Val Verde coalition volunteers help Haitian migrants navigate transportation to their final destinations. However, they cannot house them overnight, said Tiffany Burrow, the group’s operations director. 

With rain in the forecast Tuesday and hotel rooms in Del Rio booked solid, coalition volunteers frantically tried to coordinate housing arrangements for the evening. 

Some Haitian-American volunteers stepped in to help. Jean Felix said he drove into Del Rio from Temple, Texas with his wife, Ludgeda. Desulme volunteered to help transport migrants to hotels in San Antonio, where they could contact family and book flights. 

By 8:30 p.m., both men had vans nearly full and ready to go, meaning some asylum seekers would have a roof over their heads for the night. Val Verde volunteers remained behind to help coordinate housing for about 10 others who remained at the gas station.  

With volunteers stretched thin, Desulme called for more coordination among federal agencies to provide shelter and alleviate the humanitarian crisis. 

“The issue has always been that they are leaving them here overnight,” Desulme said, at the gas station. “This is not working.” 

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America corps member. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

Leonardo March

Leonardo March is Brooklyn-based visual journalist from Puerto Rico. In a previous life Leonardo was a photographer and graphic designer, skills he’s refocusing to cover the Haitian Diaspora in the US. Leonardo can be reached at Leonardo@haitiantimes.com

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