Thousands of Haitian migrants fleeing disaster and unrest seek asylum at Del Rio bridge

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Five days after Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated by a gaggle of foreign mercenaries on July 7, 29-year-old Stalin Jean decided to escape the country together with his wife and two children — traveling to Bolivia, where many Haitians have arrived recently before starting an arduous overland trek to us. The family was in Panama last month when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, destroying thousands of homes and killing quite 2,000 people. Jean said a number of his relations were injured within the earthquake, which only increased their sense of urgency to form it to us.

“There are people killing one another in Haiti, there’s just no justice,” said Jean, who received the U.S.-Mexico approach Wednesday afternoon after a two-month trek through the jungles of South America then crossed the Rio Grande at Del Rio to say asylum. “I just want to measure a relaxed life with no problems, I would like to measure somewhere where i do know there’s justice.” The family has joined an estimated 12,000 migrants who in recent days have received the border and are now waiting under the Del Rio international bridge, about 150 miles west of San Antonio, to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most are from Haiti and are seeking asylum within the U.S.

On Friday, Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano declared an area state of disaster and said the town is closing the toll booths on the international bridge connecting the town to Ciudad Acuña to halt traffic across the bridge, as a security measure. The city later released a press release that said “international traffic will continue as normal” and other people might be seen going back and forth on the bridge Friday evening. But late Friday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that the port of entry would temporarily shutter.

“This temporary closure and shift are important so as for CBP to reply to urgent safety and security needs presented by an influx of migrants into Del Rio and is effective immediately,” the agency said during a statement. “It will advance and protect national interests and help make sure the safety of the traveling public, commercial traffic, and CBP employees and facilities.” Traffic that normally uses border bridges into Del Rio is going to be directed 57 miles east to Eagle Pass, federal officials said. They didn’t indicate how long the Del Rio closures would last. Lozano said earlier he had requested assistance from the state to assist deter more migrants from entering the town. He said the town expects a further 8,000 migrants to arrive within the coming days.

The sheer numbers arriving so quickly in Del Rio, a city of about 35,000 residents, has local officials worrying about the way to feed and house thousands of migrants who for now are being forced to attend within the shade of the bridge. Dire circumstances require dire responses,” Lozano said. “There are people having babies down there [under the bridge], there are people collapsing out of the warmth. They’re pretty aggressive, rightly so — they’ve been within the heat day after day after day.”

At an appearance in Fort Worth on Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott said the U.S. Department of Defense and therefore the Department of Homeland Security have told the state that the migrants are going to be relocated to Arizona, California, and maybe Laredo. “But one thing that we all know for a fact which is, there’s nothing but uncertainty and indecision by the Biden administration about exactly what they go to try to,” Abbott said. Many of the migrants in Del Rio said they began their journey years ago, fleeing Haiti after previous disasters like the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Junior Pacheco, 38, said he left Haiti for Chile, where he lived for five years before he made his thanks to the Texas-Mexico border in August. He said that after arriving in Mexico, police asked for his passport as he was exiting a charter bus and never returned it. “There’s tons of abuse on the way here. From people to the police, they steal our money, our passports. There are some people that run aground on the way,” he said during a phone interview from Ciudad Acuña, where he was buying food, water, and a tent so his family could have somewhere to sleep. “Things are calm immediately, we just wanted to urge here,” he said. “We’re not afraid anymore.”

Migrants who fled to South America say the trek north was treacherous, with criminals and vendors taking advantage of vulnerable migrants. Videos shared widely on social media in recent weeks show the Mexican military using force as they attempted to prevent Haitians from crossing the country’s border with Guatemala. On Thursday, many migrants waded across the Rio Grande between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña, carrying children on their shoulders, carrying water bottles over their heads, and gathering cardboard to sleep on.

Eduardo Vargas, 27, said he arrived in Del Rio from his native Chile on Tuesday together with his 8-month-old daughter and his wife to form an asylum claim. He said he left Chile because he couldn’t find work to support his family. just like the others waiting under the bridge, he said he received a ticket from U.S. officials and is expecting his number to be called so he can request asylum. He said within the time his family has been in Del Rio, he and other migrants have routinely crossed the shallow Rio Grande to shop for food and water in Ciudad Acuña. They’ve been sleeping on the bottom under the bridge and bathing and washing their clothes within the river, he said.

“We want to go away here,” he said. “We don’t have tons of cash to shop for food, and we’re not eating well or drinking tons of water. We’re hungry.” Tomas Jean, 49, left his wife and son in Haiti, and if he’s ready to start a replacement life within the U.S., he said he plans to bring his family. He said he left due to the political turmoil in Haiti. “In Haiti, there are tons of problems, that’s why tons of Haitians are leaving because they’re trying to find a far better life,” he said. He said he started his trip with money, legal papers, and other personal belongings. By the time he arrived in Del Rio, he said, he only had his passport and enough money to shop for deodorant in Ciudad Acuña, where he was also scavenging for cardboard.

“There were tons of problems coming through South America, there have been criminals, the police, and immigration,” he said. “Robbers demanded my money and took tons of my paperwork, too.” Tiffany Burrow, operations director of the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition respite center, said once the thousands of migrants waiting under the bridge are released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the coalition won’t have the space or resources to assist all of them. “Simple things, like juice boxes, we’ve run out of, but there’ll be community people that will ask what we’d like and we’ll be ready to [get more],” she said. “But can we get 10,000? Probably not.”

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