Residents of the Texas border town that has become ground zero for President Joe Biden’s latest migrant crisis are expressing their fury over the situation, likening the scenes of human misery to that of a war zone.
The migrant camp under the International Bridge in Del Rio that at one point held as many as 15,000 Haitian migrants has shrunk to some 5,000, with many being released into the US.
Freddy Castro, a welder in Del Rio, told the Washington Examiner that the situation at the bridge was ‘total chaos,’ adding that the Biden administration has managed it ‘very poorly.’
Kristen Williams, a resident of 31 years who lives in the county, told the newspaper that she’s ‘never seen it like this’.
‘They need to go back to where they came from,’ Williams said. ‘We don’t have the resources in this town. We don’t have the resources in the United States.’
Thousands of Haitian migrants in Del Rio are being released in the United States, according to two U.S. officials, undercutting the Biden administration’s public statements that those in the camp faced immediate expulsion to Haiti.
In Del Rio on Thursday, long lines of migrants were seen waiting to board buses to Houston after being released from immigration custody.
The United States has returned 1,401 migrants from the camp at to Haiti and taken another 3,206 people into custody, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said late on Wednesday, but unknown thousands have been released into the US. The Del Rio camp now holds fewer than 5,000 people, DHS said.
Meanwhile the Biden administration’s special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, submitted a letter of resignation protesting the ‘inhumane’ large-scale expulsions of Haitian migrants, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The Haitian migrant camp is seen on Thursday morning. At one point holding as many as 15,000, the camp has shrunk to under 5,000 as thousands of migrants are released into the US interior
Migrants, many from Haiti, are seen in lines waiting to board busses at an encampment in Del Rio on Thursday
A bus, top center, leaves an area near a migrant encampment along the Del Rio International Bridge as another bus, bottom right, arrives on Thursday. A steady stream of buses have been arriving to take the migrants for processing
Haitians have been freed on a ‘very, very large scale’ in recent days, one official said Tuesday. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and thus spoke on condition of anonymity, put the figure in the thousands.
Many have been released with notices to appear at an immigration office within 60 days, an outcome that requires less processing time from Border Patrol agents than ordering an appearance in immigration court and points to the speed at which authorities are moving.
Mackenson Veillard and his pregnant wife camped with thousands for a week under the bridge, sleeping on concrete and getting by on bread and bottled water, but were released by immigration officials.
Three hours later, they were waiting for a Greyhound bus to take them to a cousin in San Antonio.
‘I felt so stressed,’ Veillard, 25, said the past week. ‘But now, I feel better. It’s like I’m starting a new life.’
The releases come despite the Biden administration’s vow to undertake a massive effort to expel Haitians on flights under pandemic-related authority that denies migrants a chance to seek asylum.
A third U.S. official not authorized to discuss operations said there were seven daily flights to Haiti planned starting Wednesday.
Ten flights arrived in Haiti from Sunday to Tuesday in planes designed for 135 passengers, according to Haitian officials, who didn´t provide a complete count but said six of those flights carried 713 migrants combined.
Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. disembark a Border Patrol bus at Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition after being released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Thursday in Del Rio
Migrants who were released from CBP custody board a bus to Houston from Del Rio on Thursday
Haitian migrants wait to board a bus to Houston at the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition after being released Thursday
Haitians have been freed on a ‘very, very large scale’ in recent days, one official said
The releases come despite Biden’s vow to expel Haitians on flights under pandemic-related authority that denies migrants a chance to seek asylum
A volunteer hands out baby diapers as migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. line up to board a bus to Houston from Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition after being released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in Del Rio on Thursday
Migrants board a bus to Houston after their release on Thursday. U.S. authorities have declined to say how many have been released in the U.S. in recent days.
U.S. authorities have declined to say how many have been released in the U.S. in recent days.
Filippo Grandi, the head of the U.N refugee agency, warned that the U.S. expulsions to Haiti might violate international law.
On the other side of the river, several hundred more Haitians are living in Ciudad Acuna in a makeshift camp dotted with blankets, pieces of cardboard and a handful of tarps and tents.
In Mexico, migrants who had camped in a park beside the river in Ciudad Acuña found state police trucks spaced every 30 feet or so between their tents and the water´s edge at dawn on Thursday.
Still, after anxious minutes of indecision, dozens of families opted to hustle into the river and cross at a point where there was only one municipal police vehicle, calculating it was better to take their chances with U.S. authorities.
The entrance to the park was blocked and just outside, National Guard troops and immigration agents waited along with three buses. A helicopter flew overhead.
The camp´s usual early morning hum was silenced as migrants tried to decide what to do.
Guileme Paterson, a 36-year-old from Haiti, appeared dazed. ‘It is a difficult moment,’ she said before beginning to cross the Rio Grande with her husband and their four children.
Mexican police stand guard near the Rio Grande river in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, at dawn Thursday on the border with Del Rio
Migrants trying to reach the U.S., many from Haiti, camp out in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, at dawn Thursday
A girl with Barbie dolls stuffed in her boots waits with others to cross the Rio Grande river with their parents as they stand on the bank of the Rio Grande river in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, at dawn Thursday
In Mexico, migrants who had camped in a park beside the river in Ciudad Acuña found state police trucks spaced every 30 feet or so between their tents and the water´s edge at dawn on Thursday
Mexican police and National Guard stand near a parked bus near the Rio Grande river in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico Thursday
Texas Department of Safety and National Guard vehicles shine their lights on the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas before dawn, as seen from Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila state, Mexico on Wednesday
On the U.S. side, the government had been accelerating its efforts to clear the camp in recent days, releasing many migrants with notices to appear later before immigration authorities and flying hundreds of Haitians back to their country.
Timeline of a border crisis that caught Biden by surprise
May 22 2021: Department of Homeland Security announces Haitians in US will be granted Temporary Protection Status (TPS), meaning they can’t be deported and can apply for documentation that allows them to work
July 7: Haitian President Jovenel Moise is assassinated at his presidential palace in Port-au-Prince
August 14: Haiti is hit by magnitude 7.2 earthquake, killing at least 2,000
September 17: An estimated 12,000 migrants suddenly arrive in Del Rio, Texas, after crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico. Many had been granted refugee status in Brazil and Chile after an earlier quake in 2010
September 18: Biden administration announces it will swiftly deport Haitians who cross into the US from Mexico
September 19: The number of migrants in Del Rio swells to an estimated 14,600. Deportation flights to Haiti begin, with 327 people flown out of the US
September 20: Border Patrol officials continue bussing Haitians away from Del Rio, with a further 233 deported. Photos of migrants being confronted by agents on horseback cracking their reigns emerge
September 21: Another 523 people are deported via plane, with the number of Haitians remaining in Del Rio estimated at 8,600. Texas Governor Greg Abbott arranges for hundreds of state vehicles to form a makeshift border wall in Del Rio
September 22: Unnamed sources tell AP thousands of Haitians apprehended in Del Rio have been released into the US rather than deported. Seven flights have been scheduled to continue the deportation effort.
DHS has been busing Haitians from Del Rio, a town of 35,000 people, to El Paso, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border, and this week added flights to Tucson, Arizona, the official said. The migrants are processed by the Border Patrol at those locations.
Criteria for deciding who is flown to Haiti and who is released in the U.S. are a mystery, but two officials said single adults were a priority. If previous handling of asylum-seekers is any guide, the administration is more likely to release those deemed vulnerable, including pregnant women, families with young children and those with medical issues.
The Biden administration exempts unaccompanied children from expulsion flights on humanitarian grounds.
The system is a ‘black box,’ said Wade McMullen, an attorney with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, who was in Del Rio. ‘Right now, we have no official access to understand what processes are underway, what protections are being provided for the migrants.’
On Wednesday, more than 300 migrants had been dropped off in Border Patrol vans by early afternoon at a welcome center staffed by the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition.
They waited for buses to Houston, a springboard to final destinations in the U.S. Many were required to wear ankle monitors, used to ensure they obey instructions to report to immigration authorities.
‘Hello. How are you?’ volunteer Lupita De La Paz greeted them in Spanish. ‘We will help you. You have arrived in Del Rio, Texas. It’s a small town. There are not many options. We will help you get to another place.’
Rabbiatu Yunusah, 34, waited with her 3-year-old daughter Laila, was headed to settle with an uncle in Huntsville, Alabama. She felt ‘very happy to be in this country, to be free.’
Jimy Fenelon, 25, and his partner, Elyrose Prophete, who is eight months pregnant, left the camp Tuesday and were headed to Florida to stay with an uncle.
‘Everyone has their luck. Some didn´t have luck to get here.’ Fenelon said.
Accounts of wide-scale releases – some observed in Del Rio by Associated Press journalists — are at odds with statements Monday by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who traveled to Del Rio to promise swift action.
‘If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned, your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family´s life,’ he said at a news conference.
Homeland Security, asked to comment on releases in the United States, said Wednesday that migrants who are not immediately expelled to Haiti may be detained or released with a notice to appear in immigration court or report to an immigration office, depending on available custody space.
‘The Biden Administration has reiterated that our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey,’ the department said in a statement. ‘Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including expulsion.’
Meanwhile, Mexico has begun busing and flying Haitian migrants away from the U.S. border, signaling a new level of support for the United States as the camp presented President Joe Biden with a humanitarian and increasingly political challenge.
The White House is facing sharp bipartisan condemnation. Republicans say Biden administration policies led Haitians to believe they would get asylum. Democrats are expressing outrage after images went viral this week of Border Patrol agents on horseback using aggressive tactics against the migrants.
This overhead photo shows some of the hundreds of Texas state SUVs used to form a de-facto steel barrier along the United States-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas
They are lined up outside Del Rio in Texas, which has seen an influx of 14,600 migrants who crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into the US. An estimated 8,600 remained in the town of 35,000 people as of Tuesday night, with 1,083 so far deported back to Haiti
A photo taken Wednesday shows a ramshackle encampment under the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, as migrants are shepherded away to be processed
The makeshift border camp at one point swelled to more than 14,000 migrants, with this photo emphasizing just how large the encampment has become
Migrants who remained at the border bridge in Del Rio are seen in a waiting pen on Wednesday before being loaded onto buses
Immigrants have described a screening process at the camp where people were given colored tickets for four categories: single men; single women; pregnant women; and families with young children, McMullen said.
The vast majority of immigrants he and other advocates have interviewed and who have been released into the U.S. have been families with young children and pregnant women.
Wilgens Jean and his wife, Junia Michel, waited in Del Rio this week for relatives to send the $439 in bus fare to get to Springfield, Ohio, where Jean´s brother lives. Michel, who is pregnant, huddled under the little shade the parking lot had to offer from the brutal heat. Her only request was for sunscreen that she softly rubbed on her pregnant belly.
On the concrete in front of them lay two backpacks and a black garbage bag which held everything the couple owns. The pair left in Haiti in April and were in the Del Rio camp for five days. Jean said because his wife is expecting, they were released from the camp on Monday.
‘I entered by crossing the river,’ Jean said. ‘Immigration gave me a ticket.’
After an initial stay with family in San Antonio, Veillard eventually hopes to get to New York City to live with his sister. He will take any job he can find to support his growing family.
Veillard and his wife left Haiti four years ago and had been living in Brazil until they began their journey to the United States in June, much of it on foot.
‘I don´t know how I´m going to feel tomorrow but now I feel lucky,’ he said.
Two US officials with knowledge of the situation in Del Rio said thousands of migrants have been released into the US with notices to appear at an immigration court in 60 days’ time
Del Rio in Texas, which has seen an influx of 14,600 migrants who crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into the US. An estimated 8,600 remained in the town of 35,000 people as of Tuesday night, with 1,083 so far deported back to Haiti. Thousands more have been released into the US
As the U.S. authorities have escalated expulsion flights, some Haitian families have decided to stay in Mexico and seek legal status there rather than risk being returned to Haiti.
Enex and Wendy were among those who planned to stay in Mexico with their 2-year-old daughter after hearing about the expulsions.
But on Wednesday morning, a cousin told them on WhatsApp that he had succeeded in entering the United States with his wife and had a court date to request asylum in October.
‘I’m free… I’m in Texas,’ the message read.
Enex and Wendy, who asked not to disclose their last name, spent hours on Wednesday paralyzed by uncertainty before finally gathering up their few belongings and forging the river to the U.S. side to try their luck, the latest turning point in their odyssey from Chile that included a seven-day stretch through the dangerous Darien jungle.
Thousands more Haitians, some of whom had been waiting for months for responses on their asylum applications in southern Mexico, traveled north to Mexico City, Veracruz, and Monterrey this week.
Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, said that because of high demand there are no appointments available in its office in Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, until next year and that many pending appointments had been rescheduled.
Juliana Exime, a Haitian migrant, decided to stay and wait out the process in Tapachula, despite the delays.
‘I was going to go with a big group heading north, but I’m very scared they are going to deport me,’ Exime said. ‘The only thing I want is that they let me work in Mexico, I want to do things legally.’
EXCLUSIVE: Thousands of Haitian migrants who flocked to Del Rio were already working and living comfortably as refugees in CHILE and only set off for the US after Biden scrapped Trump-era deportation policy
By Ruth Styles In San Antonio, Texas, For Dailymail.Com and Martin Gould For Dailymail.com
The secret behind the Haitians who have turned up in Del Rio, Texas is that they didn’t migrate from Haiti at all but from Chile, where they had been granted asylum and were working and living comfortably as refugees.
The dozens of Chilean identity cards that litter the ground in Ciudad Acuna, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, all bear distinctly non-Hispanic names.
There is Prosper Pierre for instance, or Linode Lafleur or Eddyson Jean-Charles. None of the cards carries a name such as Gonzalez or Muñoz or Rojas.
A closer look shows three telling letters – HTI – on the cards where they ask for the bearer’s nationality.
These are the discarded ID cards of Haitians who have turned up in Del Rio by the thousands.
But they haven’t come from Port-au-Prince or Cap-Haïtien or any other city in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. These have mainly come from Santiago, the glittering capital of relatively prosperous Chile. Many had jobs there.
‘As one put it to me, “I love Chile, it’s 1,000 times better than Haiti,” migration expert Todd Bensman of the Center for Immigration Studies told DailyMail.com.
‘But I want to come to the United States, that’s a million times better.’
These are the discarded ID cards of the Haitian migrants who have turned up in Del Rio by the thousand after leaving Chile, where they were living as refugees
Tens of thousands of Haitian migrants flocked to Del Rio, Texas because they heard the local branch of the Los Zetos cartel lets them cross the Rio Grande for free
DailyMail.com has learned that the majority of Haitians in Del Rio have actually come from Chile or Brazil, where they have been living as refugees for years, and only set off for the US after Biden opened the borders. The migrants were stopped in Tapachula, Mexico after the Biden administration pressured Mexican authorities not to let them come further north, but were suddenly released on September 12. They headed to Ciudad Acuna, where they crossed the Rio Grande into Del Rio, Texas
The majority of the Haitian migrants have come from Chile – the wealthiest country in Latin America – and Brazil – the fifth wealthiest – where they have been living in modest comfort in Santiago and São Paulo for the past five or six years.
There are an estimated 150,000 Haitians in Chile and around 125,000 in Brazil – tiny fractions of the two million that live in the United States.
But as US immigration rules became tougher, people desperate to leave the impoverished island began to look to South America as a haven.
Bensman revealed that he has not met any Haitian in Del Rio or Acuna who has come directly from their Caribbean-island homeland.
‘None of these Haitians are from Haiti. None of them. These Haitians are all from Chile and Brazil,’ he said.
‘When Biden got in, word went out and they decided, we’re coming now. That was the decision point. I’ve interviewed 60 to 70 Haitians over the last year and it’s always the same story – Joe Biden opened the border so we decided we could upgrade our lifestyle.
‘I interviewed a guy an hour ago who said he was living in Brazil and making good money but he said he heard everyone was getting into America so he came.’
The immigrants traveled up from South America on a path that took them through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala before landing in a camp across the Mexican border in Tapachula.
There they stayed at the behest of the Biden administration who pressured Mexican authorities not to let them come further north.
That was until Sunday September 12, when Mexico suddenly said they are free to go, said Bensman.
So they headed for the United States. Del Rio was the destination of choice because unlike most other places on the border the local branch of the Los Zetos cartel allows them to cross for free, DailyMail.com has learned.
In most Mexican frontier towns, coyotes charge fees of up to $10,000 per head to smuggle people across the border.
But Del Rio is different, and by last weekend, just a week after they were freed from Tapachula, thousands had camped out under the Del Rio International Bridge – overwhelming the city of just 35,000 people.
Migrants wait on the Rio Grande to cross to the United States, in Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila state, Mexico on September 18
Thousands of Haitian migrants are seen in the makeshift camp under the Del Rio bridge in Texas Tuesday awaiting processing
The sight of the squalid camp infuriated local politicians and saw the Biden administration scramble to get extra Border Patrol officers to the area while announcing that all the migrants camped in Del Rio would be deported back to Haiti.
A miles-long steel barrier of state-owned vehicles was put in place on Wednesday to physically keep the immigrants – who had dumped their identity cards at the border so US authorities would not know where their journey had started — from getting away from the border.
Speaking exclusively to DailyMail.com, Bensman – who has spent the past week with the Haitians in Ciudad Acuna – said the absence of smuggling fees made the Del Rio sector the cheapest on the border.
‘The cartel landscape is not the same in Del Rio as it is in Rio Grande Valley and other parts of Arizona and California. It’s different everywhere.
‘In this sector, there’s never really been cartel human smuggling on the same scale – I’m sure you can find a coyote here if you need one.
‘People just cross on their own and make their way into the US without paying anyone. You’ll pay further south in Texas but if you come through here, you pay nothing.
‘It’s cheaper. It’s a lot cheaper. It’s life-changing cheaper.’
Other nationalities have also cottoned on to the lack of cartel activity in the Del Rio sector with Cuban migrant Williams Rodriguez, 28, telling DailyMail.com: ‘We found out [about Del Rio] thanks to several people who were crossing into American lands and they told us what the route was like.
As a result, 15,000 Haitian migrants were encamped under the Del Rio International Bridge by last weekend – overwhelming the tiny Texas city of just 35,000 people
Migrants, many of them Haitian, cross the Rio Grande river back and forth from the United States and Mexico, to camp after a lack of supplies are given to them in the USA in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, 21 September
‘We knew it would be dangerous and we knew we are risking our lives but as the saying goes, he who does not take risks, does not win.’
His friend Luis, 56, added: ‘We were told this was the only place to cross.’
Bensman, a fellow of National Security Studies at the CIS, also said that many of the Haitians claim Mexico had turned a blind eye to their movements after months of penning them up on their southern border.
President Joe Biden suspended Trump’s border program on his first day of office and the Homeland Security Department ended it in June, drawing an influx of migrants to the border over the past few months
Most of the migrants traveled from Tapachula province where they had trapped by roadblocks manned by the Mexican National Guard and had been forced to comply with onerous immigration rules that include getting their papers stamped every two days.
The rules were introduced under the Trump administration – sparking riots among the Haitian and African migrants trapped there. Biden had asked Mexico to keep the measures in place.
‘Remember the Haitians had been causing problems down there because they were so frustrated by the requirements, Bensman explained.
‘My speculation is that the Mexicans felt like this was becoming too much of a problem for them so they simply let them flush north.’
Many of the Haitians say they were allowed to pass as a celebration of El Grito – the September 16 holiday marking the eve of Mexican independence
‘But I really think it was more of a holiday present for the people of Tapachula who were going to have parades and their celebrations and all that,’ said Bensman.
Footage emerged Monday of scores of mostly Haitian migrants returning to the Mexico side of the Rio Grande River crossing as DHS accelerates deportations
Migrants are guided by Border Patrol agents as they prepare to board a bus from the migrant camp in Del Rio to be taken to other parts of the US for processing
A bus to transport migrants to other parts of the US for processing is seen by the Del Rio bridge in Texas Tuesday night
‘I think they just said we’re going to have El Grito without 50,000 angry Haitians here.’
The migrant camp under the Del Rio International Bridge is currently being dismantled by Border Patrol, who are busing people out and putting them on deportation flights back to Haiti.
On Tuesday, four flights left the US from Harlingen, Texas, bound for the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Two more – from Laredo and Harlingen – were scheduled for Wednesday, with up to six more due to take off each day until the camp is cleared.
On Sunday, 2,300 migrants crossed back into Mexico after hearing of the flights and made a break for other border towns such as Reynosa where more Haitian refugees are gathering.
Bensman says others plan to wait it out in Ciudad Acuna or are traveling back to Tapachula to dodge deportation.
He said: ‘They have left the camp in Del Rio because they fear they will be deported and it’s credible because all of them have text messages and photos sent from the tarmac in Port-au-Prince
A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande
There was even a takeover of an ICE bus by Haitians who realized knew they were being taken to an airport instead of being released into America, he added.
‘Some of the Haitians were nonplussed because their friends in Haiti said don’t believe the Americans, don’t get on the bus. If you get on the bus, they’ll take you to the airport.
‘So all of these people were running away from the buses, the bus loading that’s going on, because the Americans are not telling them where they’re going.
‘That’s why this camp is over. Remember, these people living Chile and Brazil. They told me they would far rather live in Mexico or Chile than be returned to Haiti.
‘It’s the ultimate horror for them. But they take their gamble and sometimes it doesn’t work out.
‘They had two dollars and they figured, well I want five dollars so they put their money on the table and they’ve ended up in debt.’