DEL RIO, Texas (AP) — The Texas border crossing where thousands of Haitian migrants converged in recent weeks will be partially reopened late Saturday afternoon, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.
Federal and local officials said no migrants remained at the makeshift encampment as of Friday, after some of the nearly 15,000 people were expelled from the country and many others were allowed to remain in the U.S., at least temporarily, as they try to seek asylum.
In a statement, officials said trade and travel operations would resume at the Del Rio Port of Entry for passenger traffic at 4 p.m. Saturday. It will be reopened for cargo traffic on Monday morning. CBP temporarily closed the border crossing between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, on Sept. 17 after the migrants suddenly crossed into Del Rio and made camp around the U.S. side of the border bridge.
CBP agents on Saturday searched the brush along the Rio Grande to ensure that no one was hiding near the site. Bruno Lozano, the mayor of Del Rio, said officials also wanted to be sure no other large groups of migrants were making their way to the Del Rio area to try to set up a similar camp.
The Department of Homeland Security planned to continue flights to Haiti throughout the weekend, ignoring criticism from Democratic lawmakers and human rights groups who say Haitian migrants are being sent back to a troubled country that some left more than a decade ago.
The number of people at the Del Rio encampment peaked last Saturday as migrants driven by confusion over the Biden administration’s policies and misinformation on social media converged at the border crossing.
The U.S. and Mexico worked swiftly, appearing eager to end the humanitarian situation that prompted the resignation of the U.S. special envoy to Haiti and widespread outrage after images emerged of border agents maneuvering their horses to forcibly block and move migrants.
Many migrants face expulsion because they are not covered by protections recently extended by the Biden administration to the more than 100,000 Haitian migrants already in the U.S., citing security concerns and social unrest in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. A devastating 2010 earthquake forced many from their homeland.
The U.S. government expelled 2,324 Haitians on 21 flights to Haiti from Sunday through Friday, according to the Department of Homeland Security. On Friday, the government-operated four flights from Del Rio with 375 Haitian migrants; two flights to Port-au-Prince and two to Cap-Haitien. The department said the flights will continue “on a regular basis” as people are expelled under pandemic powers that deny migrants the chance to seek asylum.
The Trump administration enacted the policy, called Title 42, in March 2020 to justify restrictive immigration policies in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Biden administration has used it to justify the deportation of Haitian migrants.
A federal judge late last week ruled that the rule was improper and gave the government two weeks to halt it, but the Biden administration appealed.
Officials said the U.S. State Department is in talks with Brazil and Chile to allow some Haitians who previously resided in those countries to return, but it’s complicated because some of them no longer have legal status there.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the U.S. has allowed about 12,400 migrants to enter the country, at least temporarily, while they make claims before an immigration judge to stay in the country under the asylum laws or for some other legal reason. They could ultimately be denied and would be subject to removal.
Mayorkas said about 5,000 are in DHS custody and being processed to determine whether they will be expelled or allowed to press their claim for legal residency. Some returned to Mexico.
A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the situation said seven flights were scheduled to Haiti on Saturday and six on Sunday, though that was subject to change. The official was not authorized to speak publicly.
No migrants were left Saturday morning in the camp on the Mexico side of the border. Local authorities had moved the last migrants to a walled, roof-less facility in downtown Ciudad Acuña where the Mexican immigration agency put some tents.
That shelter had 240 people as of Saturday morning, according to Felipe Basulto, the secretary of the municipality. The Mexican government has been moving migrants by land and air to the south of the country and was planning to begin flying some to Haiti in the coming days.
The Mexico office of the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration released a statement late Friday saying it is looking for countries where some Haitians have residency or where their children have citizenship as an alternative to allowing them to be deported to Haiti.
Luxon, a 31-year-old Haitian migrant who withheld his last name out of fear, said he was leaving with his wife and son for Mexicali, about 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) west along Mexico’s border with California.
“The option was to go to a place where there aren’t a lot of people and there request documents to be legal in Mexico,” he said.
At the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition in Del Rio, migrants stepped off a white Border Patrol van on Friday, many smiling and looking relieved to have been released into the U.S. Some carried sleeping babies. A toddler walked behind her mother wrapped in a silver heat blanket.
A man who drove nearly 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers) from Toledo, Ohio, hoping to pick up a friend and her family, scanned the line of Haitian migrants but didn’t see them.
Verza reported from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. Associated Press writers Sarah Morgan in Del Rio; Ben Fox and Nancy Benac in Washington; Elliot Spagat in Los Angeles; and Tammy Webber in Fenton, Michigan, contributed to this story.