Thousands of migrants gather in squalid conditions under Texas Bridge

DEL RIO, Texas – Thousands of migrants were crammed under a bridge outside the border community of Del Rio on Thursday, as part of a massive increase in migration through the Rio Grande this week that overwhelmed authorities and caused significant delays in processing arrivals.

The U.S. Border Patrol said more than 9,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, were being held in a temporary transit zone under the Del Rio International Bridge as officers were working as quickly as possible to process them.

The temporary camp has grown at breakneck speed in recent days, dropping from a few hundred people at the start of the week. Authorities and city officials have said they expect thousands more to cross the river at ankle height between Mexico and Del Rio in the coming days.

The border patrol said it would send more agents to the area, “to immediately remedy the current level of encounters with migrants and to facilitate a safe, humane and orderly process.” The shaded area under the bridge, the border patrol said, was meant to “prevent injuries from heat-related illnesses” while the migrants waited to be detained.

The scene – dense crowds sleeping on the earth or moving in triple-digit heat amid deteriorating sanitation conditions – drew condemnations from local officials. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered state police and the National Guard to assist border officers in Del Rio, saying the federal response has not been sufficient to quell the upsurge in crossings.

“The Biden administration is in disarray and is handling the border crisis as badly as the evacuation from Afghanistan,” he said, referring to President Biden’s decision to end states’ longest war -United.

The southwest border has been inundated in recent months with an increase in the number of unauthorized crossings for more than two decades. More than 200,000 people crossed last month, bringing the total for this fiscal year to more than 1.5 million.

But in recent days, the growing crowds in Del Rio, a town about 150 miles west of San Antonio that’s surrounded by ranch lands, acres of thorny brush and towering mesquites, have created a new challenge. humanitarian.

Bruno Lozano, the city’s mayor, on Thursday described squalid conditions under the bridge that looked more like a slum, with little access to clean water and food and only a few portable toilets. The vast majority of those who arrived appeared to be fleeing Haiti, the Caribbean country still reeling from a series of natural disasters and the July assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse, local officials said.

“There are 9,000 people who are really anxious and stressed,” said Lozano, who called on federal officials to support his city of 35,000.

The border area of ​​Del Rio has seen high migrant smuggling this year, especially Haitians who started arriving in much higher numbers from June, when there were more than twice as many people trapped. cross the border illegally compared to the previous month. And the numbers continued to rise in July and August, according to recent border statistics.

Earlier this week, even more Haitians were caught crossing the Del Rio area, a desolate 245-mile stretch of the United States’ border with Mexico. The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday sent additional agents to the area to help ease the backup, according to an official familiar with the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about the ‘case.

The government is also planning to transport some of the migrants to other parts of the border unfamiliar with the wave like Del Rio. And return flights to Haiti are also scheduled to begin Monday, which the Biden administration hopes to signal to other Haitians that they should not attempt to cross the southern border.

The administration has come under intense pressure from Republicans for its management of the border. In recent months, Mr Abbott has called on state law enforcement to arrest migrants for trespassing to deter illegal immigration because, he said, the Biden administration does not was not.

While the Biden administration discussed the repeal of a Trump-era public health rule put in place at the start of the pandemic that barred many asylum seekers from entering the country, the administration eventually postponed plans due to the high number of migrants crossing the south. border illegally and the resurgence of the coronavirus in recent months.

But on Thursday, a Texas judge ordered the administration to stop denying migrant families under the public health rule, from 14 days. Due to humanitarian exemptions and other reasons, the administration only turned back a fraction of the families who were arrested at the southern border. In August, he used the public health rule to turn back around 18% of families who crossed the border undocumented, according to recent border data. But any increase in the treatment of migrants in the country could strain the already stretched system.

This latest wave in Del Rio comes during a small management reshuffle at the Department of Homeland Security, with the secretary’s chief of staff, deputy secretary for border and immigration policy, and chief prosecutor of Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently announcing its intention to leave. the agency at the end of the month.

The city of Del Rio, located in a southwestern part of the state on the Edwards Plateau just across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, has seen a relentless wave of migration since this spring, in part because its remoteness facilitates cross, officials said.

Immigration officials were releasing so many migrants into the city in March that residents complained the peak would deplete the city’s limited resources. Victor Escalon, South Texas regional director for the state’s Department of Public Safety, said dozens of felony trespassing arrests of migrants crossing illegally had overwhelmed local jails.

“We have to put the pressure on and deter activity,” said Mr. Escalon, who heads Operation Lone Star, a program Mr. Abbott created this year that allows him to send resources and hundreds of agents. state in border communities.

Tiffany Burrow, director of operations at the Val Verde Humanitarian Border Coalition’s Migrant Respite Center, said she was concerned the group’s resources were not sufficient to cope with this week’s flood.

“We can’t help that many people,” Ms. Burrow said. “The city is not going to provide for all of these people. The city under the bridge could get bigger than Del Rio.

Normally, the group helps around 300 migrants per day to move to their final destination in the United States.

In late Thursday afternoon, huge crowds of adults and children could be seen crowded under deck in the sweltering heat. Many could expect to wait up to two weeks before being processed by border officials and then taken to a shelter, officials said.

Among those waiting was a couple from Cuba who are expecting their first child. On Thursday, they watched with growing distress as the number of people awaiting treatment reached unimaginable numbers.

“The conditions are not good,” said Yanet, 46, who preferred not to use her last name. “I had to take a bath in the river. There was a lot of dust under the bridge.

In the meantime, migrants have access to 22 portable toilets but no running water. They feed primarily on food purchased in Mexico, running back and forth across the Rio Grande. At night, they sleep on beaten earth under the bright light of searchlights, surveillance equipment and armed border guards.

James dobbins reported from Del Rio, Eileen Sullivan from Washington, and Edgar Sandoval of San Antonio.

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