US prepares to expel Haitian migrants
US officials say they plan to ramp up expulsion flights within days for some of the thousands of Haitian migrants who have gathered in a Texas city from across the border in Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it moved about 2000 migrants out of Del Rio to other locations on Friday for processing and possible removal from the United States.
The announcement marks a swift response to the sudden arrival of thousands of Haitians in a relatively remote stretch of border that lacks the capacity to hold and process such large numbers of people.
By Monday morning, US Customs and Border Protection plans to have at least 400 agents and officers in the Del Rio area and it is prepared to send more, DHS said.
A US official told the Associated Press on Friday that operational capacity and Haiti's willingness will determine the number of flights.
The official said progress was being made on negotiations with Haitian authorities.
The official had direct knowledge of the plans but was not authorised to discuss them publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
US President Joe Biden's administration was working on Saturday on plans to send many of the thousands of Haitian immigrants who have gathered in Del Rio back to their homeland in response to the huge influx of people who suddenly crossed the border and congregated under and around a bridge.
US authorities closed traffic to vehicles and pedestrians in both directions on Friday at the only border crossing in Del Rio after the chaotic influx of migrants presented the administration with a new and immediate challenge.
US Customs and Border Protection said it was closing the border crossing with Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, "to respond to urgent safety and security needs".
Haitians on Friday crossed the Rio Grande freely and in a steady stream, going back and forth between the US and Mexico through knee-deep water, with some parents carrying small children on their shoulders.
Unable to buy supplies in the US, they returned briefly to Mexico for food and cardboard to settle, temporarily at least, under or near the bridge in Del Rio, a city of 35,000 that has been severely strained by migrant flows in recent months.
Migrants pitched tents and built makeshift shelters from giant reeds known as carrizo cane.
Many bathed and washed clothing in the river.
The vast majority of the migrants at the bridge on Friday were Haitian, said Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, who is the county's top elected official and whose jurisdiction includes Del Rio.
Some families had been under the bridge for as long as six days.
Rubbish piles were 3.1-metres wide, and at least two women had given birth, including one who tested positive for COVID-19 after being taken to a hospital, Owens said.
The county's sheriff, Frank Joe Martinez, estimated the crowd to be 13,700 and said more Haitians were travelling through Mexico by bus.
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