U.S., Mexico expel thousands of Haitians at Del Rio bridge in Texas

Thousands of Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas face an intensified U.S. exclusion effort, with six removal flights to Haiti on Tuesday. Mexico has begun expelling some by bus.

White House criticizes border agents who rounded up migrants on horseback.

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More than 6,000 have been removed from an encampment in Del Rio, Texas, U.S. officials said Monday, defending a forceful response that included immediate expulsion of the migrants to their impoverished Caribbean country and facing criticism for using horseback patrols stop them from entering the city.

Some Haitian migrants returned to Mexico, while others struggled to decide where to take their chances.

Marie Pierre, 43, remained on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande as night fell, along with hundreds of others, unsure of what to do. She said border patrol agents separated her from her 19-year-old son in Texas, and she didn't know if he had been deported. She waited for an opportunity to charge her phone, hoping to get news from her family in Florida.

"They told me he was of legal age and couldn't be with us," she said of the moment they were separated.

Earlier, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas admitted it was a "difficult and heartbreaking situation," but issued a stark warning: "If you come to the United States illegally, you will be sent back. Your journey will not be successful and you will endanger your life and the lives of your family."

Officials from Mexico's National Human Rights Commission walked among the migrants, registering those interested in applying for asylum. This year, more than 19,000 Haitians have opted to do so.

Mexican authorities detained some migrants. The first loaded buses left on Sunday, and empty buses arrived on Monday.

Some aid workers said they had seen Mexican national guard troops helping immigration agents detain a group of 15 to 20 people in Acuña. A federal official said the plan was to take the migrants to Monterrey in northern Mexico and Tapachula in the south, with flights to Haiti to follow.

Mayorkas and Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said they would investigate agents on horseback who used what appeared to be whips and their horses to push back migrants on the river between Ciudad Acuna and Del Rio, a city of about 35,000 people about 90 miles west of San Antonio, where thousands of migrants are camped around a bridge.

The Department of Homeland Security called the images "extremely troubling" and promised a full investigation that "will define appropriate disciplinary actions."

Mayorkas said 600 Homeland Security employees had been moved to Del Rio. He said he had asked the Defense Department for help in what could be one of the fastest large-scale removals of migrants and refugees in decades. He also said the U.S. would increase the pace and capacity of flights to Haiti and elsewhere.

The number of migrants at the bridge peaked at 14,872 on Saturday, said Brandon Judd, the National Border Patrol Council president.

The removals were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows migrants to be removed without an opportunity to seek asylum. Joe Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the order but let the rest stand.

Haitians not removed are subject to immigration laws, including the right to apply for asylum and humanitarian protection. Families are released into the U.S. because the government generally cannot hold the children.

Haitians have been migrating to the U.S. in large numbers for several years, many in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Many make the dangerous journey on foot, by bus and by car, including through the Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.

Some in the Del Rio camp said the recent earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of the president, Jovenel Moïse, made them fearful of returning.

"It's not right," Jean Philipe Samus said. "The Americans are grabbing Haitians and deporting everyone to Haiti. Haiti has no president, no work, no nothing. In the earthquake a lot of people died. It's not good there, I'm going back to Mexico."

Mayorkas defended his decision to grant Haitians temporary legal status due to political and civil strife in their country if they were in the U.S. on July 29, but not those being returned now.

"We made an assessment based on the conditions in the country (...) that Haiti could, in fact, receive the individuals safely," he said.

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