Last of Haitian migrants cleared from Texas camp, DHS chief says
Del Rio, Texas – The last remaining Haitian migrants who were living in squalid conditions in makeshift encampments underneath a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, along the US-Mexico border have been cleared out, the head of the Department of Homeland Security said Friday.
"As of this morning there are no longer any migrants in the camp underneath the Del Rio International Bridge," DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.
The surge in migrants, which caught DHS officials off guard, was the result of an unprecedented movement of a very large number of people traveling to a single point of the border within a matter of a few days, he added.
"Nearly 30,000 migrants have been encountered at Del Rio since September 9, with the highest number at one time reaching approximately 15,000," he said.
Mayorkas said that while migrants continue to be expelled under the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public-health law known as Title 42, some 12,400 individuals have been released or paroled into the United States and will have their cases heard by an immigration judge to determine whether they will be repatriated or permitted to remain in the United States.
He did not say how many Haitians from the recent migrant surge have been released.
Activists demand an end to Title 42
Immigration and civil-rights activists have called for an end of the deportations, and the use of Title 42, which they say deny Haitian asylum seekers the right to seek protection in the United States.
Though a federal judge recently ruled that the Biden administration cannot continue to use the law, which was first invoked by the Trump administration during the Covid-19 pandemic, he delayed his order for 14 days, giving the administration time to clear out the camp.
Mayorkas continued DHS’s use of Title 42, saying it is not an immigration policy. "It is important to note that Title 42 is applicable and has been applicable to all irregular migration during this pandemic," the secretary said.
There have been at least 22 repatriation flights to Haiti as of Friday. Those who haven’t been repatriated have been placed in immigration removal proceedings.
US says Haiti is capable of receiving deported migrants
On Thursday, there were fewer than 3,100 migrants left under the Del Rio camp after more than 1,900 had been repatriated to Haiti.
An estimated 8,000 had decided to return to Mexico voluntarily out of fear of being deported to Haiti, the secretary said.
"Just over 5,000 are being processed by DHS to determine whether they will be expelled or placed in immigration removal proceedings," Mayorkas said.
DHS increased the number of removal flights using both international airports in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and the Hugo Chavez International Airport in the northern city of Cap-Haitien.
"Last weekend, we had approximately 15,000 individuals in the Del Rio section. I committed to addressing that within 10 days. And today we have none. And that was because of the Department of Homeland Security’s assets, with the assistance of others across the government," Mayorkas said.
DHS has studied conditions in Haiti, which led to designating Temporary Protected Status for those Haitian nationals residing in the US prior to July 29, he added.
However, in continuing to study the conditions in Haiti, Mayorkas said, the US has "determined, despite the tragic and devastating earthquake, that Haiti is in fact capable of receiving individuals, and we are working with Haiti and with humanitarian relief agencies, to ensure that their return is as safe and humanely accomplished as possible."
Haitian migrants were not tested for Covid-19
The secretary said the number of removal flights were commensurate with Haiti’s capacity to receive migrants.
The US Agency for International Development, he said, has established a $5.5-million program to provide on-the-ground assistance to repatriated Haitian migrants.
Haiti’s ambassador to the US, Bocchit Edmond, said he didn’t know if the money had been received in Port-au-Prince in time to assist the returning migrants, but added he had some concerns about how the repatriations were done.
He was headed to Del Rio to join other Haitian officials who had been trying to see migrants before the camp was emptied.
Mayorkas confirmed that DHS did not test that population of individuals for Covid-19.
"We do not know – I do not know, I should say, to be perfectly accurate – I do not know whether anyone was sick with Covid. We certainly had some individuals get sick, not specifically with Covid to my knowledge, and we addressed their illnesses," he said.
The head of Haiti’s National Migration Office confirmed to the Miami Herald that some of the returning migrants have tested positive for Covid-19.
"They could have at least tested the migrants before sending them back," Edmond said.
US reportedly investigating US border patrol
Images of a US Customs and Border Protection agent confronting Haitian migrants along the Rio Grande river not far from the camp prompted outrage and calls for an investigation.
The agents involved were put on administrative leave, and Mayorkas has promised to make public the results of an ongoing investigation.
"The investigation into what occurred has not yet concluded," he said.
"We know that those images painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation’s ongoing battle against systemic racism."
On Thursday, DHS announced that it had temporarily ceased the use of the horseback unit at the camp.
"The actions that are taken are as a result of what we have seen in those images," Mayorkas said.
"The investigation, the results will be compelled by the facts that are deduced, and nothing less. Let me be clear: The department does not tolerate any mistreatment of any migrant, and will not tolerate any violation of its values, principles, and ethics."
Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire