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Haitians Undeterred by US Plan         09/19 09:25

   

   DEL RIO, Texas (AP) -- Haitian migrants seeking to escape poverty, hunger 
and a feeling of hopelessness in their home country said they will not be 
deterred by U.S. plans to speedily send them back, as thousands of people 
remained encamped on the Texas border Saturday after crossing from Mexico.

   Scores of people waded back and forth across the Rio Grande on Saturday 
afternoon, re-entering Mexico to purchase water, food and diapers in Ciudad 
Acua before returning to the Texas encampment under and near a bridge in the 
border city of Del Rio.

   Junior Jean, a 32-year-old man from Haiti, watched as people cautiously 
carried cases of water or bags of food through the knee-high river water. Jean 
said he lived on the streets in Chile the past four years, resigned to 
searching for food in garbage cans.

   "We are all looking for a better life," he said.

   The Department of Homeland Security said Saturday that it moved about 2,000 
of the migrants from the camp to other locations Friday for processing and 
possible removal from the U.S. Its statement also said it would have 400 agents 
and officers in the area by Monday morning and would send more if necessary.

   The announcement marked a swift response to the sudden arrival of Haitians 
in Del Rio, a Texas city of about 35,000 people roughly 145 miles (230 
kilometers) west of San Antonio. It sits on a relatively remote stretch of 
border that lacks capacity to hold and process such large numbers of people.

   A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Friday that the U.S would 
likely fly the migrants out of the country on five to eight flights a day, 
starting Sunday, while another official expected no more than two a day and 
said everyone would be tested for COVID-19. The first official said operational 
capacity and Haiti's willingness to accept flights would determine how many 
flights there would be. Both officials were not authorized to discuss the 
matter publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

   Told of the U.S. plans Saturday, several migrants said they still intended 
to remain in the encampment and seek asylum. Some spoke of the most recent 
devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel 
Mose, saying they were afraid to return to a country that seems more unstable 
than when they left.

   "In Haiti, there is no security," said Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian 
who arrived with his wife and two daughters. "The country is in a political 
crisis."

   Haitians have been migrating to the U.S. in large numbers from South America 
for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating 
2010 earthquake. After jobs dried up from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de 
Janeiro, many made the dangerous trek by foot, bus and car to the U.S. border, 
including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.

   Jorge Luis Mora Castillo, a 48-year-old from Cuba, said he arrived Saturday 
in Acuna and also planned to cross into the U.S. Castillo said his family paid 
smugglers $12,000 to take him, his wife and their son out of Paraguay, a South 
American nation where they had lived for four years.

   Told of the U.S. message discouraging migrants, Castillo said he wouldn't 
change his mind.

   "Because to go back to Cuba is to die," he said.

   U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed off vehicle and pedestrian traffic 
in both directions Friday at the only border crossing between Del Rio and 
Ciudad Acua "to respond to urgent safety and security needs" and it remained 
closed Saturday. Travelers were being directed indefinitely to a crossing in 
Eagle Pass, roughly 55 miles (90 kilometers) away.

   Crowd estimates varied, but Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said Saturday evening 
there were 14,534 immigrants at the camp under the bridge. Migrants pitched 
tents and built makeshif t shelters from giant reeds known as carrizo cane. 
Many bathed and washed clothing in the river.

   It is unclear how such a large number amassed so quickly, though many 
Haitians have been assembling in camps on the Mexican side of the border to 
wait while deciding whether to attempt entry into the U.S.

   The number of Haitian arrivals began to reach unsustainable levels for the 
Border Patrol in Del Rio about 2  weeks ago, prompting the agency's acting 
sector chief, Robert Garcia, to ask headquarters for help, according to a U.S. 
official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

   Since then, the agency has transferred Haitians in buses and vans to other 
Border Patrol facilities in Texas, specifically El Paso, Laredo and Rio Grande 
Valley. They are mostly processed outside of the pandemic-related authority, 
meaning they can claim asylum and remain in the U.S. while their claims are 
considered. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes custody decision but 
families can generally not be held more than 20 days under court order.

   Homeland Security's plan announced Saturday signals a shift to use of 
pandemic-related authority for immediate expulsion to Haiti without an 
opportunity to claim asylum, the official said.

   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.

   DHS said, "our borders are not open, and people should not make the 
dangerous journey."

   "Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including 
expulsion," the agency wrote. "Irregular migration poses a significant threat 
to the health and welfare of border communities and to the lives of migrants 
themselves, and should not be attempted."

   U.S. authorities are being severely tested after Democratic President Joe 
Biden quickly dismantled Trump administration policies that Biden considered 
cruel or inhumane, most notably one requiring asylum-seekers to remain in 
Mexico while waiting for U.S. immigration court hearings.

   A pandemic-related order to immediately expel migrants without giving them 
the opportunity to seek asylum that was introduced in March 2020 remains in 
effect, but unaccompanied children and many families have been exempt. During 
his first month in office, Biden chose to exempt children traveling alone on 
humanitarian grounds.

   Nicole Phillips, legal director for advocacy group Haitian Bridge Alliance, 
said Saturday that the U.S. government should process migrants and allow them 
to apply for asylum, not rush to expel them.

   "It really is a humanitarian crisis," Phillips said. "There needs to be a 
lot of help there now."

   Mexico's immigration agency said in a statement Saturday that Mexico has 
opened a "permanent dialogue" with Haitian government representatives "to 
address the situation of irregular migratory flows during their entry and 
transit through Mexico, as well as their assisted return."

   The agency didn't specify if it was referring to the Haitians in Ciudad 
Acua or to the thousands of others in Tapachula, at the Guatemalan border, and 
the agency didn't immediately reply to a request for further details.

   In August, U.S. authorities stopped migrants nearly 209,000 times at the 
border, which was close to a 20-year high even though many of the stops 
involved repeat crossers because there are no legal consequences for being 
expelled under the pandemic authority.

 
 
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