Michelline Baptiste’s eyes, large and painted purple, close each time she takes a breath before speaking. Because the day before she lost her baby, with whom she was three months pregnant, and she is still bleeding. Because at seven in the afternoon, in Del Rio, Texas, it’s 37 degrees. Because for her, who is diabetic and suffers from high blood pressure, her back and eyelids droop. Because after days contained – in the background, held back – by the presence of the Border Patrol on the border between the United States and Mexico, it has been authorized to move on: “You have to endure to survive.”
Baptiste is one of the 15,000 people who gathered since Thursday in a camp between Ciudad Acuña, in Coahuila (Mexico), and Del Río, after trying to illegally cross the border between the two countries. Now he waits at the headquarters of an NGO, the only one that works in the city, where the volunteers have set up a tent so that the migrants can sleep on thin mats before leaving this Tuesday by bus or plane to other destinations within the country. In the camp under the bridge, the Haitian woman had a hard time: the dust in the air, the strong sun, the robberies. And before that, the trip from Chile, the six days on foot in the jungle that separates Colombia from Panama, the arrival in Tapachula, in southern Mexico. “Many things happened to me, many people were raped, the girls, their mothers,” he says, “sometimes one would go to drink water and see a dead man upriver, then he would not drink anymore.”
Outside the tent, about 10 people hunch over a table where they can charge their cell phone batteries. A white wire and the bright screens on the faces. From there, they communicate with their relatives, those who are in Haiti and those who live in the United States. Marco Louiville, 25, and his partner, who is pregnant, will travel to Miami, where they have relatives. In that city, he hopes to start working as a tractor driver. “We went through a lot to be here,” he says. Even in the last days. Cameras recorded scenes along the Rio Grande on Sunday in which Border Patrol agents on horseback tried to grab migrants and used their animals to push them into Mexico. This Monday, the US authorities issued a statement announcing a formal investigation into the events, according to reports The Washington Post.
The thousands of migrants whose progress has been contained since Thursday are, above all, Haitians who left the country expelled by political and economic instability. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010 that forced thousands of people to begin an exodus, mainly to countries in South America. In 2017, Mexico stopped being just a country of passage to the United States and became a destination for Haitians. The serious humanitarian crisis that the country has suffered for a decade worsened with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in June and the impact of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that left more than 2,000 dead in August.
“In Haiti there is no life,” summarizes Mariego Pierre, 32 years old and five months pregnant. The woman describes the last days as a “calamity.” “No food, no bathroom, no place to sleep,” he says, after thousands of miles on foot, according to his account. Around him, men and women continue to charge the battery of their cell phones, wash their clothes, rest, keep out of the sun, sweep the tent where they will sleep that night or look for the way to the airport from which they will fly the next day. The Haitian, like thousands of other migrants, risked the trip despite the fact that the message of the Democratic Administration has been from the beginning “Do not come.”
While they were in the camp, the low flow allowed them to come and go to Ciudad Acuña, on the other side of the border, where prices for purchasing water and other basic products are lower. But in recent days, migrants have started to leave the camp, which is closed to the press, with their belongings back to Mexico. Some will try to cross at other points on the border, according to what they have said, because they do not see the possibility of continuing there to the United States.
The bridge over the camp was cut off to traffic on Saturday. Thousands of people cross there every day to work, shop or visit their families. The mayor of Del Río, Democrat Bruno Lozano, a young politician who has been in office since 2018, assured on Twitter that “the dynamics” were already “changing” and thanked the “logistics efforts” to the Secretary of National Security and the governor, the Republican, Greg Abbott for dispatching 400 agents. He criticized Biden: “Where are you?”
Del Río, a border city of almost 36,000 inhabitants, these days stages the difficulties of the United States Government to manage the arrival of migrants, which in the last year has registered the highest numbers in two decades. The figures have fueled Republicans and supporters of former President Donald Trump to attack the Democratic Administration and demand a tougher hand on the border. “Our nation is going to pay the price for Biden’s weakness and incompetence,” said Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who visited the camp over the weekend. Inhabitants of Del Río had gathered there to protest the arrival of migrants. Some denounced robberies in the city and even demanded a political trial against the president.
The vast majority of the city’s residents are of Hispanic origin: 85%, according to census data. The city and its surroundings were the second most used passage by migrants after the Rio Grande Valley to enter the United States in the last year. Border agents registered record numbers of encounters with migrants – the authorities count all crossing attempts regardless of whether they were made by the same person, that is why they speak of “encounters” -. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) records show nearly 1.5 million encounters with migrants at the border. In Del Río, there were 214,993, 533% more than during the previous period, when it was behind the steps through Laredo, Tucson or San Diego.
The Democratic government began on Sunday to send the first deportation flights and has continued this Monday. The strategy, agreed with the Haitian authorities, consists of sending the migrants back to their country of origin or to the nations from where they embarked on several daily flights, such as Brazil or Chile. Migrants who are not deported are sent to other border points to process their applications. The government of President Joe Biden closed the border on Monday. From Del Río, this Monday, the Secretary of National Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, has insisted that those who enter the United States illegally will be deported: “Their trip will not be successful and they will have endangered their lives and that of their family.” .
The head of the Border Patrol, Raúl Ortiz, informed on Sunday at a press conference that 3,300 people had already been transferred and that in the next 24 hours they would move 3,000 more migrants. “We continue to enforce the Title 42 order,” Ortiz warned Sunday. Title 42 is an exception in the law that allows the immediate deportation of migrants and that has been used during the pandemic to make it difficult to apply for asylum for those who arrive irregularly in the country. It was implemented by Trump and kept in force by Biden. A judge 10 days ago ordered the US administration to lift the order allowing express expulsions and gave the president two weeks to end the practice.
No one waits anymore at the corner of the city of Del Río, until minutes ago, several Haitian migrants gathered. The last bus of the day to San Antonio left and the five remaining people are already heading to a hotel that an organization found for them. Francisqs, 27, who has not wanted to give his last name, hopes to fly to Miami on Tuesday with his partner. The journey, he says, has been long: “We came walking from country to country.” List: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama… and on. Like many of the Haitians there, he answers the same when asked why he was allowed to start his asylum application. He claims to have seen pregnant women being deported, so he attributes his fate to a single reason:
-Oh my God.
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