WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Saturday it would send hundreds of border agents to Texas and “accelerate” efforts to remove Haitian migrants who surged recently at the border crossing and return them to the Caribbean country.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection will within 24 to 48 hours deploy 400 additional agents to the Del Rio sector, the area which has been the center of the migrant surge, DHS said in a statement.
“The Biden Administration has reiterated that our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey. Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including expulsion,” DHS said.
The agency announced steps it was taking to handle the surge of Haitian migrants at the Texas border with Mexico, including speeding up their removal and return to Haiti.
“DHS will secure additional transportation to accelerate the pace and increase the capacity of removal flights to Haiti and other destinations in the hemisphere within the next 72 hours,” DHS said.
A Biden administration official told McClatchy late Friday that the policy was not targeted against the Haitian migrants but rather was in line with the protocol for anyone who enters the country unlawfully regardless of national origin.
The Del Rio port of entry has been temporarily closed after thousands of people sought to enter the United States in that area this week. U.S. Border Control is coordinating with other federal agencies to move thousands of people from Del Rio to other processing centers, DHS said.
The agency said it was working with local partners to reduce crowding and ensure that migrants on U.S. soil had access to water, towels, toilets and medical care.
DHS said it was working with the source countries to ensure they’ll “accept individuals who previously resided in those countries” and that the “White House has directed appropriate U.S. agencies to work with the Haitian and other regional governments to provide assistance and support to returnees.”
The Haitian government has been told to expect the arrival of more than 100 migrants from Del Rio on Tuesday, a source told the Miami Herald.
The surge in migration comes after weeks of tumult in Haiti. President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July. An earthquake in August killed more than 2,000 people and left thousands more injured or displaced. That same month the country was hit with a tropical storm.
The administration is “committed to helping the Haitian people build a more secure and prosperous country through foreign assistance and robust diplomatic engagement,” a State Department spokesperson told McClatchy.
The majority of the expulsions are being conducted under a legal provision that allows the restriction of entry to the United States based on the prevention of the spread of communicable diseases.
The Trump administration used that law, Title 42 of the U.S. Code, to prevent entry during the COVID-19 pandemic, a policy which President Joe Biden has maintained despite opposition from progressives in his party.
“Irregular migration poses a significant threat to the health and welfare of border communities and to the lives of migrants themselves, and should not be attempted,” DHS said in its statement.
The State Department spokesperson said the migrants also face health and safety risks.
“U.S. immigration law remains in effect. Individuals who attempt to journey to the United States in an irregular manner put themselves at risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19, especially those traveling in large groups,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition, irregular migration puts people at risk of becoming victims of crime, such as kidnapping and other forms of extortion, gender-based violence, and human trafficking, and often requires migrants and their families to incur crippling debt,” the State Department spokesperson said.
In addition to the federal resources, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will send reinforcements to help address the surge of migrants, which on Saturday stood at 14,812, according to local officials.
At a news conference with Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano, Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, blamed the surge on the Biden administration’s decision earlier this year to grant temporary protected status to Haitian migrants in the United States, which pauses deportations.
“When they got word they were not going to fly people out and move them back to Haiti or where they were coming from, that’s when we saw the surge of people in the last week and a half come here,” Pfluger said.
(Charles, a Miami Herald reporter, contributed reporting from Texas.)
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