The United States began repatriating Haitians camped in a Texas border town and barring others from crossing into Mexico, at the start of what could be one of the quickest migrant or refugee deportations and large scale of the United States for decades.
More than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince on Sunday on three flights. Haiti said six flights were expected Tuesday. US authorities were preparing to deport many of the more than 12,000 migrants who were camping around a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after passing through the city of Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.
Some people arriving on the first flight to Haiti covered their heads as they made their way to a large bus parked next to the plane. Dozens lined up to receive a plate of rice, beans, chicken and plantains.
All received $ 100 and were tested for Covid-19, although authorities did not plan to quarantine them, said Marie-Lourde Jean-Charles of the Haitian National Migration Office.
Gary Monplaisir, 26, said his parents and sister lived in Port-au-Prince, but to reach their home he, his wife and their five-year-old daughter would have to pass through a gang-controlled area called Martissant where the murders are rife.
“I’m scared,” he said. “I don’t have a plan. “
He said he moved to Chile in 2017, when he was on the verge of completing an accounting degree, to work as a tow truck driver. He paid to have his wife and daughter join him. They tried to reach the United States because he thought he could find a better job and help his family in Haiti.
“We are always looking for better opportunities,” he said.
Some said they plan to leave Haiti again as soon as possible. Valeria Ternission, 29, said she and her husband wanted to travel with their four-year-old son to Chile, where she worked as a bakery cashier.
“I am really worried, especially for the child,” she said. “I can’t do anything here. “
The United States plans to start seven deportation flights a day on Wednesday, four to Port-au-Prince and three to Cap-Haitien, according to a US official. The flights will depart from San Antonio, but authorities could add El Paso, a federal official said.
The only obvious parallel for such a deportation without the possibility of seeking asylum dates back to 1992 when the US Coast Guard intercepted Haitian refugees at sea, said Yael Schacher, senior US lawyer at Refugees International.
Likewise, large numbers of Mexicans were sent home during the peak years of immigration, but by land and not so suddenly.
Central Americans have also crossed the border in comparable numbers without facing mass deportations, although Mexico has agreed to accept them from the United States under pandemic rule since March 2020. Mexico does not accept Haitians expelled.
When the border was closed on Sunday, migrants first found other ways to cross until confronted by law enforcement. An Associated Press reporter saw Haitian immigrants crossing the river to the United States east of the previous location, but they were arrested.
Mexico announced on Sunday that it would also start deporting Haitians. A government official said the flights would come from towns close to the US border and the border with Guatemala, where the largest group remains.
Haitians have been migrating to the United States in large numbers from South America for several years. Many make the dangerous trek on foot, by bus, and by car, including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
Some of the migrants from the Del Rio camp said the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse made them fearful of returning.
Since Friday, 3,300 migrants have been evacuated from Del Rio to planes or detention centers, US border patrol chief Raul Ortiz said on Sunday. He expected to displace 3,000 of the approximately 12,600 remaining migrants in one day and aimed for the rest to leave within a week.
“We are working around the clock to quickly move migrants out of the heat, the elements and under this bridge to our processing facilities to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States in accordance with our laws and policies,” Ortiz said.
The swift deportations were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by former President Donald Trump, allowing migrants to be immediately deported without the possibility of seeking asylum. The Biden administration exempted unaccompanied children but left the order in place.
Any Haitian who is not deported is subject to immigration laws, which include the right to seek asylum and other humanitarian protections. Families are quickly released in the United States as the government generally cannot detain children.