US steps up deportation of Haitian refugees from Texas camp

US immigration updates

The Biden administration is stepping up efforts to deport Haitians who have gathered in their thousands in the Texas border town of Del Rio.

The Department of Homeland Security announced this weekend it would “accelerate the pace and increase the capacity” of flights to Haiti after an estimated 14,000 people gathered under a bridge in the town.

Joe Biden has been accused by conservatives of overseeing a migration crisis at the US-Mexico border. But the US president is also under fire from many Democrats, who have called the deportation policy “cruel and callous”.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement on Saturday: “Our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey. Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including expulsion. 

“Irregular migration poses a significant threat to the health and welfare of border communities and to the lives of migrants themselves, and should not be attempted.”

Migrants have been arriving in Del Rio, a border town of 35,000 residents, for several days. Bruno Lozano, the town’s mayor, said on Saturday there were now 14,534 people camped under a bridge sheltering from 40-degree heat while waiting for their cases to be processed by US Border Patrol.

Many but not all of those have come from Haiti, which suffered a devastating earthquake last month and is now in political turmoil after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. The country’s economic growth has slowed almost to a standstill and inflation is forecast to rise above 20 per cent this year.

The most recent entrants from Haiti have added to already high numbers of people trying to cross the Mexican border into the US, driven in part by economic crises triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Border Patrol agents say they are having more than 200,000 encounters with migrants every month, four times higher than they were a year ago.

The numbers have brought criticism from conservatives that the president has lost control of the situation at the Mexican border, an issue on which Donald Trump, the former president, campaigned heavily during last year’s election.

Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, last week accused Biden of overseeing “a humanitarian disaster . . . a public health disaster . . . [and] a national security disaster”.

Last month the Biden administration extended a public health rule which allows officials to turn away anyone crossing the border from Mexico into the US, regardless of status.

This weekend the US Customs and Border Protection agency completely shut down the port of entry into Del Rio as officials struggled to cope with the flows of people. And on Saturday the federal government announced a new set of measures to deal with the numbers.

As well as increasing the number of deportation flights, the Department of Homeland Security said it would deploy 400 more border protection agents, move migrants away from Del Rio to be processed elsewhere, work with other countries in the region to take people back and provide clean water and toilets for those in the encampment.

But Democrats have voiced their concerns over the deportation flights, given the multiple crises many migrants are fleeing. More than 50 Democrats wrote to the Department of Homeland Security on Friday urging them to stop the flights altogether.

Ayanna Pressley, one of those who signed the letter, said: “The Biden administration cannot claim it is doing everything it can to support the Haitian community while continuing to unjustly deport Haitians as the island weathers its worst political, public health and economic crises yet.”

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