US begins mass deportation of Haitian migrants from southern Texas

At least three flights a day are being operated out of San Antonio to return thousands of people to Port-au-Prince, as hundreds of border control agents are sent to expedite the process

A group of Haitian migrants cross the Rio Bravo in search of food and supplies near the Del Rio-Acuña border crossing in Acuña, Mexico (Spanish text).Photo: PAUL RATJE / AFP | Video: REUTERS

The administration of US President Joe Biden has launched a mass-deportation operation involving thousands of Haitians after the arrival of more than 14,000 migrants in southern Texas. According to anonymous sources quoted by the Associated Press and The Guardian, three flights departed from San Antonio on Sunday morning bound for the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it had transferred some 2,000 people from the southwestern Texan city of Del Rio to processing centers on September 18 to “in order to ensure that irregular migrants are swiftly taken into custody, processed and removed from the United States.”

We have reiterated that our borders are not open
Marsha Espinosa, spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Secuity

A vast caravan of Latin American migrants, the majority of them Haitians but also including Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans, crossed the border from Mexico into the United States last Thursday. The 14,353 people are being held in a huge, improvised camp set up under Del Rio’s International Bridge border crossing. There they are waiting to be processed, said Bruno Lozano, the mayor of Del Rio, which is home to 35,000 inhabitants. On September 20, it is expected that 400 agents and officers from the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency will arrive in Del Rio to “improve control of the area” and expedite the deportation process.

The strategy of Biden’s government, agreed with the Haitian authorities, consists of sending the migrants back to their countries of origin or to the nations from where they set out for the US on several daily flights. “The DHS will ensure additional transportation to accelerate the rhythm and increase the capacity of return flights to Haiti and other destinations within the next 72 hours,” DHS spokesperson Marsha Espinosa said. The flights will be carried out “consistent with our laws and policy,” the DHS said in a statement. The agency stated it was working with the countries from where the migrants started their journeys, such as Brazil and Chile, to ensure the deportees are permitted entry on arrival. “We have reiterated that our borders are not open,” Espinosa added.

Ariel Henry, the acting president of Haiti, said late on Saturday that “measures have already been taken” to receive the deported migrants. “I share their suffering and I welcome them home,” Henry wrote in a message on Twitter, calling on Haitians seeking to leave to “give the country a chance” to prevent more of his compatriots from being subjected to the “humiliation” of being deported from the US. The Haitian authorities are prepared to accept at least three flights per day but Washington is eager to ramp up the frequency of departures. Government employees with knowledge of the situation were quoted by local media stating that the intention is to send up to eight flights per day, but that figure varies depending on the source. Each flight generally has capacity for up to 120 passengers.

US authorities have been expelling migrants under Title 42, which was introduced in 2020 by Donald Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic

“The Haitian government’s ability to safely receive its citizens will take months, if not years,” a letter signed by 50 Democratic legislators stated. The communique also calls on Biden to halt the deportation of Haitian citizens. The Caribbean nation is still recovering from an earthquake on August 14 that left more than 2,000 people dead and over 12,000 injured. A month earlier, on July 7, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated by gunmen at his private residence in Pétion-Ville.

In August, the United States detained almost 209,000 migrants, 2% fewer than during the month of July but still at a rate not seen since the year 2000, according to the CBP. Under Biden’s administration, US authorities have been expelling migrants under a federal regulation known as Title 42, which was introduced in 2020 by the previous government of Donald Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and which permits the express expulsion of asylum seekers arriving in the US from a country where a communicable disease is present. Biden’s Democratic government approved the extension of Title 42 in August. On September 16, a judge ordered the White House to lift the emergency measure within two weeks as it was deemed unnecessary to combat the spread of coronavirus. Biden appealed against the ruling.

English version by Rob Train.

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