The United States is ramping up its Haitian migrant deportation flights from the state of Texas back to Haiti on Wednesday, even as thousands of other Haitians are being freed into the U.S. on the promise to appear at an immigration office within 60 days.
It was not immediately clear why U.S. officials were sending some of the estimated 14,000 Haitians, who had flocked from Mexico in recent days to the border city of Del Rio, Texas, back to the Caribbean nation, while others were registered and freed, at least for weeks, to stay on U.S. soil.
Thousands of the Haitian migrants have been released into the U.S. in recent days, according to an Associated Press report, expanding on a VOA account Tuesday that several hundred had been freed.
Many of the migrants had been living in Chile, Brazil and other South American countries after fleeing the rubble of a 2010 earthquake in Haiti. But they trekked to the U.S. border, based on erroneous social media accounts, that it was open at Del Rio, even though U.S. officials repeatedly urged migrants to stay where they were living.
The U.S. was planning as many as five deportation flights on Wednesday, with 135 migrants aboard each flight, to Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and Haiti’s second biggest city, Cap-Haitien. Seven flights are set for Thursday.
Since Sunday, more than 1,000 migrants have been sent back to Haiti, a place where many of them have not lived for a decade.
The deportation policy has drawn criticism from immigration activists who say the migrants should be allowed to make asylum claims to stay in the U.S.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, normally an ally of President Joe Biden, on Tuesday urged the U.S. leader and Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas “to immediately put a stop to these expulsions,” contending the flights echoed “the hateful and xenophobic” policies of former president Donald Trump “that disregard our refugee laws.”
Mayorkas told a congressional hearing that government officials hope to clear out the migrant camp under the bridge at Del Rio within the next nine or 10 days.
“We expect to see dramatic results in the next 48 to 96 hours, and we’ll have a far better sense in the next two days,” he said.
Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a staunch critic of Biden’s administration and its handling of migrants at the border, ordered state workers to line up dozens of state-owned cars, in a side-to-side, kilometers-long “steel wall” to try to keep more migrants from surging past overwhelmed U.S. border agents into Texas.
Abbott estimated that 8,600 migrants remain at the Del Rio International Bridge, down from the estimated 14,000 encamped there last weekend.
The Texas governor blamed the Biden administration for the chaos at the border.
“When you have an administration that is not enforcing the law in this country, when you have an administration that has abandoned any pretense of securing the border and securing our sovereignty, you see the onrush of people like what we saw walking across this dam that is right behind me,” Abbott said at a news conference in Val Verde County.
Meanwhile, immigration authorities have launched an investigation into scenes at the border last Sunday of U.S. horseback-mounted border agents corralling some of the Haitians and forcing them back into Mexico.
Top U.S. officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Mayorkas, condemned the actions of the agents as captured on video and in photographs.
Mayorkas told lawmakers on Wednesday that the scenes of the border agents’ treatment of the migrants “correctly and necessarily were met with our nation’s horror.”
“They do not reflect who we are as a country,” he said, nor the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.