The Biden administration worked Saturday on plans to send many of the thousands of Haitian immigrants who've gathered in a Texas border city back to their Caribbean homeland, in a swift response to the huge influx of people who suddenly crossed the border from Mexico and congregated under and around a bridge. Details were yet to be finalized but would likely involve five to eight flights per day that would begin Sunday, according to an official with direct knowledge of the plans who wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly, per the AP. San Antonio, the nearest major city to Del Rio, where the migrants have gathered, could be among the departure cities.
The official said Friday that operational capacity and Haiti's willingness would determine the number of flights, but that "good progress" was being made. Another administration official expected two flights per day, at most, and said all migrants would be tested for COVID-19. US authorities closed traffic to vehicles and pedestrians in both directions Friday at the only border crossing in Del Rio after the chaotic influx of migrants presented the administration with a new and immediate challenge as it tries to manage large numbers of asylum-seekers who've been reaching US soil.
Haitians have been migrating to the US in large numbers from South America for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating earthquake in 2010. Haitians on Friday crossed the Rio Grande freely and in a steady stream, going back and forth between the US and Mexico through knee-deep water, with some parents carrying small children on their shoulders. Unable to buy supplies in the US, they returned briefly to Mexico for food and cardboard to settle, temporarily at least, under or near the bridge in Del Rio, a city of 35,000 that has been severely strained by migrant flows in recent months. Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez estimated the crowd to be 13,700.
The flight plan, while potentially massive in scale, hinges on how Haitians respond. They might have to decide whether to stay put at the risk of being sent back to an impoverished homeland wracked by poverty and political instability or return to Mexico. It's unclear how such a large number amassed so quickly. A lawyer for a migrant shelter north of Del Rio noticed an increase of Haitians in the area two or three weeks ago and believes that misinformation may have played a part—migrants often make decisions on false rumors that policies are about to change and that enforcement policies vary by city. An official in President Biden's administration says the action isn't targeting Haitians specifically and doesn't reflect a policy shift, just a continuation of normal practices.
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