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Thousands Of Migrants From Haiti Are Waiting At The U.S.-Mexico Border


A massive migrant encampment under the International Bridge connecting Del Rio, Texas, with Ciudad Acuna in Mexico has grown to more than 14,000 people. Most of the migrants are from Haiti, which experienced massive upheaval over the summer following the assassination of the country's president and a devastating earthquake, which killed more than 2,200 people. Many, though, have made the dangerous journey over a number of years through South America, Central America and Mexico. Now they find themselves in limbo as they try to seek asylum at the Texas-Mexico border. TPR's Joey Palacios is in Del Rio, and he joins us now. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is it like in Del Rio?

PALACIOS: So, Lulu, migrants have long showed up at this port of entry seeking asylum or have attempted to cross the Rio Grande themselves, but this large of an encampment is unprecedented here. You have more than 14,000 migrants waiting under this bridge. And to put that in perspective, that's more than a third of the entire city of Del Rio. And that number is expected to continue growing. They're basically just waiting here underneath the bridge, hoping to get processed and detained, so they can seek asylum in the U.S. Many of the migrants go back and forth between the encampment and the Mexican side, the city of Acuna. Ramon Moreno Ibarra (ph) is the pastor of Casa de Padre, and he's been helping them in any way that he can.

RAMON MORENO IBARRA: (Speaking Spanish).

PALACIOS: He says he's been coming here for a while, but there are a lot more. He's in Ciudad Acuna. There's a lot from Haiti. They buy food here, and then they cross to the other side of the river and camp there. One of the people he's helped, who's asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said it's been a long journey to get here.


PALACIOS: So he's originally from Haiti. He says the journey has been dangerous, witnessing violence and sexual assault against this community. But it's all for the hope of a better life. And there are thousands of people with similar stories all hoping for the same thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, you can hear him there saying in Portuguese that he came from Brazil. The Biden administration says that likely won't happen, though, for many of these people - getting asylum - as it plans to fly them back to Haiti.

PALACIOS: That's right. And those planes are supposed to start leaving today. The expulsion flights are being conducted under Title 42, part of U.S. code that deals with public health. The Trump administration enacted Title 42 at the start of the pandemic to expel migrants under the pretense of stopping the spread of COVID-19. And it's worth noting the Biden administration has continued this hard-line Trump policy over the objection of civil rights groups. And Clara Long is with Human Rights Watch.

CLARA LONG: There's broad consensus that sending people back on flights to Haiti via the use of a public health - a so-called public health expulsion order is absolutely illegal. It's been the subject of, you know, statements from the U.N. refugee agency. It's an example of bad practice around the world in terms of cutting off the right to seek asylum in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

PALACIOS: Long says Biden's message has been confusing, both trying to be more welcoming to migrants and continuing some of Trump's hard-line immigration policies. She says this invites the kind of confusion that's going on at this port of entry right now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are there any of the migrants getting a chance to seek asylum? I mean, what are the conditions like as they wait?

PALACIOS: Yes, but Del Rio is small, and CBP officers can only process so many people each day. I met a couple from Cuba who were able to cross over into Del Rio, and they were among 40 to 50 people waiting for buses to take them away to continue their asylum process. I spoke with Leytianis Pena (ph) on her way to Miami. She's also nine months pregnant. She stayed at the encampment with her husband for six days, and she says the conditions there are brutal.

LEYTIANIS PENA: (Speaking Spanish).

PALACIOS: Leytianis says they slept on the dirt with a lot of dust on top of rocks. It's very uncomfortable. And it becomes even harder when you're pregnant. But she says that it's worth it. We're here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And are people receiving help once they are allowed to remain in the U.S.?

PALACIOS: There's a broad network of groups, including the Val Verde Humanitarian Border Coalition, and this coalition runs a site where people are dropped off by ICE and where they can - while they have their asylum cases heard while they're in the United States. So they are receiving some help from community organizations here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Texas Public Radio's Joey Palacios. Thank you very much.

PALACIOS: Thanks, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joey Palacios, Texas Public Radio