Del Rio, Texas Sept. 22 (BNA): Several Haitian immigrants camped in a small Texas border town have been released in the United States, undermining the Biden administration’s public statements that thousands in the camp face immediate expulsion, two US officials said. .
Haitians have been released “on a very large scale” in recent days, according to a US official who put the number in the thousands. The Associated Press reported that the official, who has first-hand knowledge of the operations, was not authorized to discuss the matter on Tuesday and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said many of them were released with notices to appear at the immigration office within 60 days, a finding that requires less processing time from border guard agents than an order to appear in immigration court and indicates the speed with which authorities are moving.
The official said the Department of Homeland Security has been transporting Haitians from Del Rio to El Paso, Laredo and Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border, and this week added flights to Tucson, Arizona. It is processed by the border guards at those locations.
A second US official, who also had first-hand knowledge and spoke on condition of anonymity, said large numbers of Haitians are being processed under immigration laws and have not been placed on expulsion trips to Haiti that began on Sunday. The administrator couldn’t be more specific about the number.
In recent days, the officials said, US authorities have rushed buses to Tucson but turned to flights when they could not find enough transportation contractors. Haitian Coast Guard planes flew from Del Rio to El Paso.
The releases in the US have been taking place despite indications of a massive effort to expel Haitians on flights to Haiti under a pandemic authority that denies migrants the opportunity to seek asylum. A third US official, not authorized to discuss operations, said there were seven daily flights to Haiti scheduled starting Wednesday.
The accounts of the wide-ranging flyers — some of which were noted at the del Rio bus stop by Associated Press journalists — contrast with statements made the day before by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mallorcas, who had traveled to Del Rio to pledge swift action.
“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be sent back, your flight will not be successful and your life and the lives of your family will be at risk,” he said at a news conference on Monday.
The releases come amid a swift effort to clear the camp under a bridge that, by some estimates, housed more than 14,000 people over the weekend in a town of 35,000. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, during a visit Tuesday to Del Rio, said the top county official told him the camp’s latest tally was about 8,600 immigrants.
The criteria for determining who would travel to Haiti and who would be released in the United States were not clear, but two US officials said single adults are the priority on removal flights.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, Mexico has begun moving and flying Haitian migrants away from the US border, authorities said Tuesday, signaling a new level of support for the United States as the camp has posed a growing humanitarian and political challenge to President Joe Biden.
The White House faces sharp bipartisan condemnation. Republicans say the Biden administration’s policies have led Haitians to believe they will be granted asylum. Democrats are expressing outrage after this week’s images of Border Patrol agents on horseback using aggressive tactics against immigrants.
Mexico has helped in crucial moments before. It ramped up patrols to prevent unaccompanied Central American children from reaching the Texas border in 2014, allowed tens of thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in US immigration courts in 2019, and only last month began deporting Central American migrants to Guatemala. After the Biden administration transferred them to southern Mexico.
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Relations, said on Tuesday that he had spoken with his US counterpart, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, about the situation of Haitians. Ebrard said most Haitians already had refugee status in Chile or Brazil and did not seek it in Mexico.
“What they are asking for is to be allowed to pass freely through Mexico to the United States,” Ebrard said.
Two Mexican federal officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed Mexico’s actions.
Three buses loaded with migrants left Acuña on Tuesday morning for Piedras Negras, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) down the border, from where they boarded a flight to the southern city of Villahermosa in the state of Tabasco, an official said.
The other official said there was a flight on Monday from the northern city of Monterrey to the southern city of Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala. Tapachula is home to the largest immigration detention center in Latin America. The flight transported about 100 migrants picked up around the bus station in Monterey, a hub for various routes north to the US border.
The second official said the plan was to move all Haitians who had already sought asylum in Mexico to Tapachula.
According to the official, Haitian immigrants who are already in detention centers in Mexico and have not sought asylum will be the first to be transferred directly to Haiti once Mexico begins these flights.
Around the city of Ciudad Acuña, Mexican authorities have stepped up efforts to move migrants away from the border. There were overnight arrests by immigration officers and they raided hotels known to house immigrants.
“Suddenly they knocked on the door and (shouted) ‘immigration,’ the police, as if they were looking for drug smugglers,” said Freddy Register, a 37-year-old Venezuelan who is staying in a hotel with his Haitian compatriot. Wife, Vedette Dollard. The couple were surprised in the middle of the night.
He said that the authorities took four people in addition to others who were outside the hotel. “They took our phones for interrogation, took us to immigration offices and took our pictures,” Register said. They were held overnight but eventually their phones were returned and they were released. The authorities gave them two options: leave Mexico or return to Tapachula.
On Tuesday afternoon, they decided to leave town. They bought tickets for a bus trip to the Gulf state of Veracruz, and plan to continue on to Tapachula where they had already applied for asylum.
Others left without being told. Small groups arrive at the Ciudad Acuña bus station to buy tickets to Veracruz, Monterrey and Mexico City. The bus lines themselves were prevented from selling tickets for their ride north through Mexico, and they were sold tickets to head south without being issued.
In Haiti, dozens of immigrants angry at deportation from the United States tried to rush to the plane that landed Tuesday afternoon in Port-au-Prince, screaming at authorities. One of the security guards closed the plane door just in time as some of the deportees started throwing stones and shoes at the plane. Many of them lost their belongings in the melee with the arrival of the police. The group was leaving one of the three flights scheduled for the day.