The US has started expelling Haitians from a large makeshift camp at the Texas border, in an operation that could become one of America’s swiftest large-scale expulsions of migrants in decades.
The sprawling camp under the international bridge attracted more than 12,000 migrants at one point after they crossed from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico.
Officials have moved 3,300 migrants from Del Rio, Texas, since Friday and have announced a new daily schedule of flights to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.
More than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince on three flights on Sunday, and Haiti said six planes were expected on Tuesday.
From Wednesday, the US plans to begin seven daily expulsion flights, four to Port-au-Prince and three to the northern city of Cap-Haitien, according to a US source.
Flights will continue to depart from San Antonio but authorities may add El Paso, they added.
US Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz said at a news conference that over the next week the government aims
to “quickly” process 12,662 migrants from underneath the bridge that links Del Rio with Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.
“We are working around the clock to expeditiously move migrants out of the heat, elements and from underneath this bridge to our processing facilities in order to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States consistent with our laws and our policies,” he added.
US officials are also blocking other migrants from crossing the border with Mexico.
When the border closed on Sunday, migrants found alternative routes to cross the Rio Grande – the fifth-longest river of North America – but were eventually confronted by federal and state law enforcement.
Despite the heightened security on the US side, migrants were continuing to cross the river over the weekend.
In one incident, an officer on a horse was seen charging the animal to block migrants and swung what looked like a lariat at a person trying to climb up the US embankment from the water.
At least 100 Haitians, including families with small children, crossed back into Mexico from the camp on Sunday evening
Mexico said it would also begin deporting Haitians to Haiti, with a government official saying the flights would be from towns near the US border and the Guatemala border, where the largest group of migrants remains.
Haitians have been migrating to the United States in large numbers from South America for several years, many having left the Caribbean nation after a devastating earthquake in 2010.
The country was also hit by another disastrous earthquake last month – which saw more than 1,149 people killed.
The rapid expulsions were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by former president Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows for migrants to be immediately removed from the country without an opportunity to seek asylum.
Unaccompanied children are exempt from the order, a decision made by President Joe Biden.
Haitians who are not expelled are subject to immigration laws, which include rights to seek asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. And because the US government cannot generally hold children, families are often quickly released.
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