DEL RIO, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz returned to his South Texas roots on Sunday to brief media on the thousands of migrants amassing under an international bridge on this border town, and to say that federal officials are getting the situation under control.
Ortiz said currently there are 12,662 migrants — mostly Haitians — living under the Del Rio International Bridge. The bridge remained closed on Sunday for the third day due to security concerns. But Ortiz said the numbers have dropped by 3,300 since Saturday when there were nearly 15,000 migrants under the bridge that leads to the Mexican border city of Acuña.
Ortiz also said 400 Border Patrol agents have been sent to Del Rio.
“We have taken a number of steps to ensure the safety and security of the migrants, the local community and our agents and partners who are working to address the increase in arrivals in Del Rio, Texas,” Ortiz said. “We are working around the clock to expeditiously move migrants out of the heat elements and from underneath this bridge to our processing facility in order to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States consistent with our laws and our policies.”
Ortiz said they expect to move an additional 3,000 migrants in the next 24 hours, and he punctuated that by saying “no one has crossed since midnight” into Del Rio.
Flights began leaving from Laughlin Air Force Base, near Del Rio, at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday carrying Haitian migrants back to their home country. Another flight left at 7:30 a.m. and several more were scheduled, Ortiz said.
Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said flights also began on two types of aircraft out of the Del Rio International Airport.
Lozano did not speak during the news conference, but afterward, he told some media that he is grateful to federal officials for sending resources and said he spoke with Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas early Sunday.
“I actually spoke to him one-on-one about the dire situation in Del Rio,” Lozano said. “And that’s the action behind us. So I want to thank all the departments and all the agencies that are working in tandem to help alleviate the Border Patrol mission to move persons from under the bridge to other sectors to continue their processing.”
Lozano took to social media and went on national media last week to plea for help from the Biden administration for a situation he called a crisis that was out of control and one that this border town of just 35,000 residents could not handle.
Lozano also had positive words about Mexican officials on the other side of the Rio Grande.
“I feel that the state of Coahuila is definitely stepping up their game to help assist the city of Acuña,” he said in response to a question from Border Report.
He said that although the city of Del Rio is suffering economically from a lack of maquiladora factories — “to the tune of thousands of dollars per hour” — he said closing the bridge was a necessary measure.
“It does hit financially everybody. It is hitting our pocketbook. But I do feel that it is having an impact … by mitigating migrants from crossing over at the points there,” he said.
At least five babies have been born in Del Rio this past week, one under the bridge, local officials said.
One of the babies, born on Wednesday, boarded an 11:30 a.m. bus for San Antonio on Sunday. Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition Director Tiffany Burrow held the swaddled three-day-old newborn as the baby’s parents received transportation help from Burrow’s staff at the Stripes gas station, which doubles as the city’s Greyhound bus stop.
Burrow’s organization is the only migrant shelter in the city and it does not have the ability to house migrants overnight. The facility, just a mile from the border fencing that lines the riverbanks here, gives migrants who are released by federal authorities a place to shower, some food and beverages and a change of clothing and helps them with travel arrangements.
On Sundays, however, they meet at the Stripes so the workers can go to church. And that’s where Border Report found several vans of migrants dropped off by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
There were about 20 migrants — most Haitians — who boarded that bus and many were tired and dehydrated as they sat in the triple-digit heat waiting to leave.
They took turns charging cellphones on a bank of electric charges set up outside the gas station on the ground.
Most only speak Creole, but one man spoke Portuguese and he told Border Report that the conditions under the bridge “were very awful.”
Santiago Pardo, a volunteer at the migrant center who works for Church World Service, a nonprofit, said migrant advocates have asked Greyhound Bus officials to add buses to Del Rio to help transport the migrants being released by DHS.
Ortiz said Border Patrol agents are sending migrants to other cities for processing, such as El Paso and Laredo.
Burrow received about 100 migrants on Saturday, including the first two busloads dropped off by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
To meet the demands, volunteers from the community are regularly bringing in truckloads of donated goods, including cases of bottled water. And some residents walk in with arm fulls of juice boxes, which Burrow said is especially a favorite among the migrant children.
“They’re exhausted but they’re also looking forward and thinking about their final destination,” Burrow said. “So a little shower, washing of face and brushing of teeth is definitely a reviving moment.”
Burrow’s organization relies on donations, which can be made on their website at VVBHCoalition.com that has an Amazon wish list, she said.
“We go with the flow. Whatever it is we’re here for the long haul and not short term,” she said.