(Trends Wide) — With 8,600 migrants remaining under the Del Rio International Bridge, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that officials are using “unprecedented” methods to deter migrants from crossing into the state, including parking Guard vehicles. Texas National and the Texas Department of Public Safety along the border to create a “steel barrier.”
The surge in migrants, many of whom are Haitian, was the result of word-of-mouth or social media messages that the border at Del Rio was open, said U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz. Chaotic scenes on the bridge, which include law enforcement officers on horseback using aggressive tactics against migrants, have drawn the ire of local and federal officials. Some have even called the makeshift camps under the bridge inhumane.
“What you see under the bridge, that’s not human,” said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council.
Abbott blamed the administration of President Joe Biden for the current situation in Del Rio, saying the federal government is not doing enough to secure the country’s southern border. That, Abbott argued, has led to thousands of migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge waiting to be processed by U.S. immigration authorities.
“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 ensuring our sovereignty, you see the avalanche of people like the one we saw crossing this dam that is right behind from me, “Abbott said at a news conference in Val Verde County.
The Biden administration still relies on a Trump-era border policy tied to the coronavirus pandemic that allows border authorities to swiftly remove detained migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. In recent days, the administration has stepped up such deportations and increased the pace of repatriation flights.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the administration hopes to clear the migrant camp under the bridge within the next nine to 10 days.
“We expect to see shocking results in the next 48 to 96 hours, and we will have a much better sense in the next two days,” he told senators during a Senate panel hearing on Tuesday.
Thousands of Haitians are in South America waiting to go to the United States.
There has been an unprecedented flow of migrants, including Haitians, crossing the border between Colombia and Panama this year.
“It is extremely worrying,” Panama’s Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes previously told Trends Wide.
There are as many as 30,000 Haitians in Colombia who may be looking to travel north, and Panama expects 80,000 migrants to cross its borders on their way to the United States by the end of this year. In early September, more than 70,000 migrants arrived in Panama in 2021, more than 30,000 of whom are from Haiti.
More than 97% of Haitians who migrate to the United States do not come directly from Haiti, but were residents of South American countries, such as Chile and Brazil, according to the Panamanian government.
Many Haitians camping under the bridge are believed to have been living in South America since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in their native country. The economic cost of the pandemic in the region further drove migration to the southern border of the United States.
Haiti is a “dangerous country” now because of the recent presidential assassination and the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the country in August, said Nicole Phillips, legal director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an advocacy group for Haitian migrants.
“People still have to get clean water and medical care,” he said. “So what needs to happen is to stop deportation flights to Haiti immediately and instead welcome Haitians to be screened for asylum … so they don’t have to go back to where they fled.”
Some of the Haitians who crowded under the Del Rio bridge have already begun to return to Mexico, according to a Homeland Security official who added that fewer arrivals are anticipated as the administration increases repatriation flights.
The Secretary of Homeland Security questioned about the situation in Del Rio
Governor Abbott requested an emergency declaration on Monday due to the number of migrants on the bridge. The flood of migrants in Del Rio has also caused the bridge to be temporarily closed, and traffic is being diverted to ensure the uninterrupted flow of trade and travel, said Ortiz, head of the US Border Patrol.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also relies on other Customs and Border Protection facilities along the border to process the Del Rio migrants. More than 1,000 have been brought to El Paso, with 500 expected a day, according to El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego
“We are receiving some from there due to the inability at this time to handle them,” Samaniego said. “They need a lot of help from us and El Paso is always ready to help.”
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said Governor Abbott made it clear that “Texas does not need anyone’s permission to protect Texas.”
McCraw said securing the border is imperative because it poses a threat to public safety, a threat to national security and allows the cartels to “exploit” the gaps that lead to an increase in human trafficking and drug problems.
“Today we hit the all-time high in Texas and there are 1.1 million arrests not including what you see here,” McCraw said, referring to the Del Rio bridge.
Abbot said Border Patrol agents are “overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to do and are suffering the consequences of an administration that does not provide them with the personnel and resources they need.”
The crisis at the border has raised many questions in Washington about the DHS response. US Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri questioned DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about the Del Rio crisis during a Senate panel hearing on Tuesday.
“Are you happy with your progress?” Hawley asked Mayorkas.
“Senator, we have to do better and we have to do more, and we are committed to doing it, and we are doing it,” Mayorkas said, adding that the increase in migrants, mainly from Haiti, was “unprecedented.”
Hawley said the current situation occurred under the supervision of Mayorkas and that humanitarian conditions should not be minimized.
“Frankly, you are responsible, you and your administration are responsible,” Hawley told Mayorkas. “Tens of thousands of people living in alarming, alarming conditions, brought here because of your policies.”
Mayorkas also referred to images of Border Patrol agents aggressively confronting the migrants Tuesday, saying that in addition to launching an internal investigation, DHS alerted the inspector general to the incident.
Trends Wide’s Brad Parks, Rosa Flores, and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.