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Official says only 225 migrants remain in Texas border town – press enterprise

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By MARÍA VERZA and JUAN LOZANO

DEL RIO, Texas (AP) – Only 225 migrants remained in a Texas border camp where nearly 15,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, had gathered just days ago in hopes of claiming the asylum, Val Verde County’s top elected official said on Friday.

County Judge Lewis Owens told The Associated Press in a text message he was told all migrants would be returned by the end of the day – a dramatic change from Saturday, when the number was culminated as migrants dragged down by confusion over the policies of the Biden administration. and disinformation on social media converged at the border crossing between Del Rio, Texas, and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.

Many face deportation because they are not covered by protections recently extended by the Biden administration to the more than 100,000 Haitian migrants already in the United States – many of whom left their homelands after the devastating earthquake of 2010 – citing security concerns and social unrest in the Western Hemisphere. poorest country.

The US and Mexico appeared keen to end the increasingly politicized humanitarian situation that led to the resignation of the US special envoy to Haiti and widespread outrage over the emergence of images of border officials maneuvering their horses to block and forcibly displace migrants.

President Joe Biden said on Friday that the way officers were using their horses was “horrible” and “people would pay” accordingly. Officers have been assigned administrative duties while the administration investigates.

“There will be consequences,” Biden told reporters. “It’s an annoyance, but it’s beyond an annoyance – it’s dangerous, it’s wrong, it sends the wrong message to the world and sends the wrong message to the home. It’s just not who we are.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security said nearly 2,000 Haitians have been swiftly deported on flights since Sunday under pandemic powers that deny people the ability to seek asylum. Approximately 3,900 were being processed for possible return to Haiti or for placement in a US immigration court. Others have been released in the United States with notices to appear in court or to report to immigration authorities. Thousands of people have returned to Mexico.

A US official said Thursday that authorities expect the camp to be empty in about two days. The official had direct knowledge but was not authorized to speak publicly. Homeland Security had planned to send up to seven daily flights, but only flew three on Wednesday and five on Thursday due to issues with contractors and mechanical delays, the official said. Seven flights were scheduled to Haiti on Friday, six on Saturday and seven on Sunday.

And in Mexico, just over 100 migrants, mostly single men, stayed Friday morning in the riverside camp in Ciudad Acuña.

Dozens of families there returned to Del Rio overnight after Mexican authorities left the area. As the river rose, some border patrol officers helped families who were struggling to cross with children.

Some migrants have also moved to small hotels or private homes in Ciudad Acuña. Authorities arrested six migrants at one o’clock Thursday afternoon.

Luxon, a 31-year-old Haitian migrant who hid his last name out of fear, said he was leaving with his wife and son for Mexicali, about 900 miles west along the border between Mexico and California.

“The option was to go to a place where there are not a lot of people and ask for documents to be legal in Mexico,” he said.

Asked Friday about the situation in Ciudad Acuña, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said: “We don’t want Mexico to be a migrant camp, we want the problem to be fully addressed.”

Some Haitians are allowed to stay in the United States at least temporarily to seek asylum or to stay under another residency application, with notices to appear before immigration authorities later. DHS officials declined to specify the number, but said they were people with “vulnerabilities,” meaning they are pregnant, have young children, or the United States has not. not the ability to keep them in detention, especially during the pandemic.

The government has no plans to stop deporting others on public health grounds despite pressure from Democratic lawmakers, who say migrants are being returned to a troubled country some left there. is over ten years old.

The Trump administration adopted the policy in March 2020 to justify restrictive immigration policies in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Biden administration used it to justify the expulsion of Haitian migrants.

Late last week, a federal judge ruled the rule inappropriate and gave the government two weeks to arrest it, but the Biden administration appealed.

Officials said the US State Department is in talks with Brazil and Chile to allow some Haitians who previously resided there to return, but it’s complicated because some of them no longer have status there. legal.

The special envoy of the Biden administration in Haiti, Daniel Foote, on Thursday handed over a letter of resignation to protest against the large-scale “inhuman” expulsions of Haitian migrants.

Foote, who was appointed in July, wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, saying he was stepping down immediately “with deep disappointment and apologies to those who sought critical changes.”

“I will not be associated with the inhuman and counterproductive decision of the United States to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined in secure complexes due to the danger what armed gangs represent for everyday life, ”he said. wrote. “Our political approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my political recommendations have been ignored and rejected, when not altered to project a different narrative from mine.”

The career diplomat was known to be deeply frustrated by what he saw as a lack of urgency in Washington and an icy pace in efforts to improve conditions in Haiti.

State Department spokesman Ned Price disputed Foote’s claims, saying his proposals were “fully taken into account in a rigorous and transparent political process.”

“Some of these proposals were deemed detrimental to our commitment to promoting democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the political process. For him to say that his proposals were ignored is just plain wrong, ”Price said.

The humanitarian group UNICEF also condemned the deportations, saying on Thursday that early estimates show that more than two in three migrants deported to Haiti are women and children, including newborns.

“Haiti is reeling from the triple tragedy of natural disasters, gang violence and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, who said those returned without protection adequate “are even more vulnerable to violence, poverty and displacement. – the factors that prompted them to migrate in the first place. “

And civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton, who visited the camp on Thursday, said he had witnessed “truly catastrophic and human shame” and pledged to “stand by our people and to ensure that asylum is treated in a way and in a manner “. “

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Lozano reported from Del Rio, Texas. AP journalists Julio Cortez in Del Rio; Joshua Goodman in Miami; Matthew Lee in New York; Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Tammy Webber in Fenton, Michigan, contributed to this story.

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