DEL RIO, Texas (Border Report) — The mayor of the embattled border town of Del Rio, Texas, on Friday announced he has signed a local emergency declaration to shut down southbound traffic on the international bridge that leads to Mexico where 12,500 migrants, mostly Haitians, currently are living under as they try to claim asylum in the United States.
Del Rio Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano told media at noon that his order is good for one week and has the blessing of Texas Gov. Abbott who has promised to send additional resources, like state troopers and provide road barriers to Del Rio, a rural border town of just 50,000 about 90 minutes southwest of San Antonio.
“We have his blessing basically. That we’re going to get resources,” Lozano said to a throng of media camped out at the entrance to the bridge that has become a massive staging area for officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Border Patrol, National Guard, state troopers and other law enforcement who are descending on the region.
“This is an extreme measure that needs to be done and we need action,” Lozano said.
At the Del Rio International Bridge on Friday, a “BRIDGE CLOSED” sign was propped in a back parking lot as soon as the order was announced, ready to be put in front of the southbound lanes. Ahead of the weekend, commercial trucks, pedestrians on foot and bicycles and motorists quickly headed to get across the Rio Grande before the bridge was to close.
On the northbound side, dozens of troopers and officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection lined the roadway. A bridge official, who spoke to Border Report on condition of anonymity, said officials were “coordinating a plan” with Mexican officials to close the port as the numbers continue to grow in the camp below.
Thousands are arriving daily, most from a “caravan” of Haitians who started in the jungles of Panama and began reaching Del Rio this past weekend. The numbers swelled by 3,500 just from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning, Lozano said.
A 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Haiti as well as the assassination of the president were among the factors driving Haitians north where President Joe Biden’s administration has given them temporary protected status.
But due to a processing bottleneck and lack of facilities in this part of rural Texas, the Haitians are unable to cross and are stuck with thousands of others under this bridge that is less than a mile long.
Border Report walked across the bridge on Friday morning and filmed for a couple of hours the scene unfold in real time.
Babies were crying. Mothers were lying on flattened cardboard boxes nursing infants. Styrofoam plates littered the ground and mounds of trash were heaped every 20 yards. A bank of 20 porta-potties soon became 70 units as DHS officials brought in more trucks of portable toilets Friday that the migrants used to dry their clothing to get off the dusty ground.
A wide grassless trail has been carved leading to a spot on the riverbank that is but ankle-deep and is where the migrants walk across the Rio Grande to Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila. The migrants go back and forth to Mexico for food and other supplies.
Local churches in Del Rio have been providing sandwiches and potable water is brought in, but migrants say it’s not enough.
Mexican vendors bring in water and other drinks for sale and migrants ask passersby on the bridge for money to buy goods.
Noisy Border Patrol airboats cut through the swift current and travel upstream to where the migrants are crossing. Helicopters fly overhead. And a massive DHS staging command center is complete with multiple tents, trailers and its own bank of porta-potties.
Border Patrol agents ride horseback and work alongside National Guardsmen who are toting substantial weaponry to keep the crowds back under the bridge and contained.
The entire area where they are is U.S. soil and that worries locals who say the numbers in the small town could double if the migrants force their way in.
“It’s a dire situation very, very serious situation that we need to realize what’s going on in Del Rio,” Rolando Salinas Jr., mayor of the neighboring border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, told Border Report. “They’re facing a tough situation.”
Salinas’ community is just 45 minutes south and his town borders the Mexican city of Piedras Negras. But unlike Ciudad Acuña, the leadership of Piedras Negras has refused to allow busloads of migrants into that Mexican border town. And that, Salinas says, has kept the migrants from entering at his section of the river, sending the migrants 40 miles north to enter in Del Rio instead.
Tiffany Burrow, who directs the only migrant day-shelter in the region, called the situation unsustainable.
“The numbers are higher than anything that we’ve ever experienced here,” said Burrow, whose nonprofit group, Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, since 2019 has offered migrants a place to rest, wash up, and help with travel plans on the two buses out of town each day.
The facility, a mile from the border wall, can hold just 400. On Friday afternoon, they had already helped 148 but Border Patrol continued to drop off vans full of migrants legally released by DHS and bound for interior cities.
Haitians Joseph Dodeline, 25, his wife, Carol, and their 1-year-old daughter Saidashika, were among “the lucky ones” to be released from under the bridge, he told Border Report in broken Spanish. They spent four nights under the 4,000-foot-long bridge. He said it was very dusty and as more and more people arrived, they were on top of one another, despite the coronavirus pandemic. There were only a dozen toilets and no handwashing stations, he said.
“We didn’t sleep the last two nights,” he said sporting a new shirt he got at the Humanitarian center who helped them to arrange airline tickets to Florida.
Dodeline said living under the bridge was “awful” and he was glad his daughter — who turned 1 just 15 days ago — didn’t spend her first birthday there.
From atop the bridge, Border Report watched as groups of men and women cut Carrizo cane from the riverbanks and used the stalks to erect tents. They tied the stalks together using paper bags as joints and covered them with blankets to get out of the glaring sun and triple-digit heat.
These migrants were not under the bridge, but as more and more seeped from under the bridge, DHS officials began pushing them back under the massive structure. Reporters were not allowed at the bridge and the FAA declared the bridge a restricted area where drones could not be flown.
Lozano made an impassioned plea to the Biden administration to help as fears rose that the growing masses of migrants camped under the bridge were getting increasingly anxious, agitated and could try to storm the bridge.
A Mexican bridge official, who wished to remain unnamed, said several journalists had been hit with rockets and bottles and some punched when they tried to interview the crowd.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, visited the bridge on Thursday evening and told FOX News: “It is the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen.”
Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum urged caution from the Biden administration and deliberate steps.
“There is no easy solutions. Policy decisions made at this moment need to keep in mind there are thousands of people living under a bridge,” Noorani told Border Report. “Some politicians are already trying to weaponize this in order to create fear and misgivings among the American public.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com