By Daina Beth Solomon
CIUDAD ACUNA (Reuters) – A migrant camp in Texas near the Mexican border where as many as 14,000 Haitians amassed in recent days has shrunk to less than half that size amid expulsion flights and detentions, even as some stay, committed to trying to remain in the United States.
The United States has returned 1,401 migrants from the camp at Del Rio, Texas, to Haiti and taken another 3,206 people into custody, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said late on Wednesday.
Wade McMullen, an attorney with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization, said several hundred people, mostly pregnant women and parents with children, had been released in Del Rio, Texas, over the past several days.
Those people, and others in detention who have not been expelled, will have immigration court dates.
The Del Rio area, which includes the camp where families have crammed into makeshift shelters made out of reeds on the banks of the Rio Grande, now holds fewer than 5,000 people, DHS said.
The deportations came amid profound instability in the Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, where a presidential assassination, gang violence and a major earthquake have spread chaos in recent weeks.
Filippo Grandi, the head of the U.N refugee agency, warned that the U.S. expulsions to Haiti might violate international law.
On the other side of the river, several hundred more Haitians are living in Ciudad Acuna in a makeshift camp dotted with blankets, pieces of cardboard and a handful of tarps and tents.
The International Committee of the Red Cross called for protection for Haitians gathered in Mexico, noting their “special condition of vulnerability” in a statement on Wednesday.
STAY OR GO?
As the U.S. authorities have escalated expulsion flights, some Haitian families have decided to stay in Mexico and seek legal status there rather than risk being returned to Haiti.
Enex and Wendy were among those who planned to stay in Mexico with their 2-year-old daughter after hearing about the expulsions.
But on Wednesday morning, a cousin told them on WhatsApp that he had succeeded in entering the United States with his wife and had a court date to request asylum in October.
“I’m free… I’m in Texas,” the message read.
Enex and Wendy, who asked not to disclose their last name, spent hours on Wednesday paralyzed by uncertainty before finally gathering up their few belongings and forging the river to the U.S. side to try their luck, the latest turning point in their odyssey from Chile that included a seven-day stretch through the dangerous Darien jungle.
Thousands more Haitians, some of whom had been waiting for months for responses on their asylum applications in southern Mexico, traveled north to Mexico City, Veracruz, and Monterrey this week.
Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, said that because of high demand there are no appointments available in its office in Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, until next year and that many pending appointments had been rescheduled.
Juliana Exime, a Haitian migrant, decided to stay and wait out the process in Tapachula, despite the delays.
“I was going to go with a big group heading north, but I’m very scared they are going to deport me,” Exime said. “The only thing I want is that they let me work in Mexico, I want to do things legally.”
Haitian migrants face crucial choices as expulsion flights ramp up