© Reuters Haitian migrants disembarked from an airport after U.S. authorities flew them from a text border town where thousands of Haitians gathered under a bridge after crossing the river from Mexico to Rio Grande, Port-au-Prince, Haiti September 20, 2021
Written by Gesica Thomas and Daina Beth Solomon
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti / Ciudad Acuna, Mexico (Reuters) – Migrants sent home from a Texas border camp at Haiti’s main airport on Tuesday were outraged as US President Joe Biden faced growing pressure from the United Nations to end an expulsion policy. The chief says it could be illegal.
Nearly 10,000 migrants, mainly Haitians, are in worse condition in a camp spread under a bridge in Rio Grande, from the city of Del Rio in Texas to the Ciudad Acuna in Mexico.
In recent days, U.S. authorities have evacuated at least 4,000 people for processing in detention centers. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said about 523 Haitians have been deported to their homeland on four flights, and repatriation will continue on a regular basis.
Returnees reacted angrily after the flight from Port-au-Prince airport was canceled, spending thousands of dollars from the restive Caribbean country via South America in anticipation of a better life in the United States.
On Tuesday, they found themselves back to where they started.
Reuters eyewitnesses said a group of men in white T-shirts rushed to the plane after boarding at Port-au-Prince, while another tried to board.
Immigrants enter a confined area of the airport when they try to recover passports and personal belongings and lock the plane door before the man returns to the cabin.
The hyper government became agitated at the news of the deportation.
“I am angry at the government. We were told in prison that the Haitian government had signed up to send us back to Haiti. They are all bad people, this authority,” said the 45-year-old Iranian melider, who arrived on a previous flight.
This unrest has destabilized the Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, where presidential assassinations, growing factional violence and a major earthquake have spread chaos in recent weeks.
Filippo Grandi, head of the UN refugee agency, said US expulsions for such volatile situations could violate international law and create rehabilitation, or expose asylum seekers in life-threatening situations.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also called Biden a fellow Democrat on Tuesday, saying the expulsion of immigrants to Haiti “denies common sense” and resented the tactics used by border guards to control the crowds in the camps.
Vice President Kamala Harris said the situation is complex and the United States “needs to do more” to support the basic needs of the Haitian people.
“People want to stay home, they don’t want to leave home, but they leave when they can’t meet their basic needs,” he told reporters.
Republican politicians are eyeing the midterm elections in 2022, when they hope to regain congressional control, with some Democrats lifting immigration restrictions and quickly expanding the wider camp in Texas.
According to the UN refugee agency, the population of the camp reached 14,000 over the weekend.
On Tuesday, the camp on the U.S. side of the river spread to nearby forests as migrants sought shade and cover. Some families made temporary tents with branches and leaves, while parents washed their children using river water jugs. One child had an uncommon hernia in her abdomen.
Immigrants said food shortages persisted and there were not enough portable toilets. In a small tent she pitched under a tree, a Haitian mother holding her 15-day-old baby.
Fearing expulsion, some immigrants have set up a new camp on the banks of the Mexican River.
Mexican authorities began preparing flights and buses for the southern states of Mexico when they began detaining Haitians in Ciudad Acuna, across the border from Del Rio. The removal appeared to reduce the density around the transport camp.
A Reuters crew had a face-to-face meeting where several immigrants shouted in protest as Mexican agents boarded their National Immigration Institute (INM) van. INM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
New camps are growing on the Mexican side, with the help of groups including immigrants from the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, and the United Nations Migration Agency.
Residents from Ciudad Acuna brought food.
Surian Petit, who had his 3-year-old son by his side, said there was a huge improvement in the U.S. camp in Mexico. “The Mexican people here are helping a lot.”
“We were hungry there,” Petit said. “There was no help under the bridge, no help.”
She said she had lived in Chile for the past five years, where her son was born, but decided to leave after finding it difficult to leave her home to find work after the epidemic lockdown.
Following an outcry following an incident in which U.S. border agents used horse bridles in cowboy hats to intimidate immigrants, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas insisted that U.S. border agents were providing medical care and working with the Red Cross.
Mayorkas said he was horrified to see the images, echoing increasingly harsh criticism from the White House, which said the footage “does not represent who we are as a country.”
Mayorkas said the agents under investigation have been given administrative responsibilities and are no longer dealing with immigrants. He ordered staff in Del Rio to be consistent with the policy, training and “values of this department”.
Despite the risk of returning to Haiti, many migrants remain in Del Rio camps.
Carly Pierre, Ly0, said he was staying because he had the opportunity to enter the United States with his wife and children and two five-year-old children after living in Brazil for several years.
“There are exiles and there are people who will make it,” he said, adding that his shorts are still wet after crossing the river to buy ice and soda at a convenience store next to Mexico.