In response to the migrant crisis in Del Rio, Texas, the Biden administration has begun a large-scale deportation effort to fly Haitians, who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, back to their home country.
In what the Associated Press is calling "one of America's swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants or refugees in decades," Haitian migrants are being given $100 and free COVID-19 test upon their return to Haiti, according to Marie-Lourde Jean-Charles of the Office of National Migration. More than 320 migrants were taken back to Port-au-Prince in three separate flights Sunday and Haiti said six more flights were expected Tuesday, the AP reported.
An estimated 12,600 migrants are camped under a bridge in Del Rio, where authorities have described the situation as "out of control." The Biden administration will begin sending seven expulsion flights to Haiti daily beginning Wednesday, with four going to Port-au-Prince and three to Cap-Haitien. The flights will depart from San Antonio, but administration officials are also considering sending flights from El Paso, an official told the AP.
Border Patrol Chief Raul L. Ortiz reported Sunday that 3,300 migrants had been removed from the Del Rio camp to planes or detention centers. Another 3,000 migrants were expected to be moved within a day, with Ortiz predicting that rest would be removed from the area within a week.
"We are working around the clock to expeditiously move migrants out of the heat, elements and from underneath this bridge to our processing facilities in order to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States consistent with our laws and our policies," Ortiz said during a press conference at the Del Rio bridge.
The migrants are being expelled under a pandemic-related order enacted by President Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows for removal without an opportunity to seek asylum in the U.S. Under President Joe Biden's administration, the order is still in effect for all migrants except unaccompanied minors.
The state of Texas took action on Saturday to deploy Department of Public Safety and National Guard officers to secure the border in Del Rio. About 1,000 state troopers and National Guardsmen were deployed to the area where Haitian migrants had crossed the border illegally.
Thousands of migrants had camped in makeshift shelters under a bridge, where unsanitary and crowded conditions had created a humanitarian crisis.
Migrants interviewed by the Associated Press said they had traveled to the U.S. fleeing natural disasters in Haiti and a lack of job opportunities in South and Central America. Some said that the recent earthquake in Haiti, which killed 1,900 people, and political turmoil in the nation following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse made them afraid to return to their home country.
According to the New York Times, Haitians who had emigrated to countries like Chile and Brazil believed that President Biden's lax immigration policies would make it easier to cross the border into the U.S.
Haitian migration officials objected to the deportations, claiming that Haiti is not capable of receiving the deportees. The country has asked the U.S. to pause the deportations.