Ernesto, a 31-year-old Haitian migrant, waded knee-deep through the Rio Grande that separates the United States and Mexico.
He wasn’t heading to the United States, though. He was leaving a migrant encampment in Del Rio, Texas, on Thursday to slip back into Mexico’s Ciudad Acuna to buy water and food for the fourth time, he said, since arriving Monday morning in the United States.
Reuters witnessed hundreds of other migrants, mostly Haitians but also Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, wading through the Rio Grande and back into Mexico to stock up on essentials they said they were not receiving on the American side.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to questions about the number of people in the Del Rio camp. One CBP agent told Reuters Wednesday that about 6,000 people were in the camp. Reuters journalists estimated they saw at least 1,000 people on the river’s two shores.
The scene is illustrative of the humanitarian challenges facing President Joe Biden as border arrests hover around 20-year highs. U.S. authorities arrested more than 195,000 migrants at the Mexican border in August, according to government data released Wednesday.
Ernesto, who declined to give his surname to protect his identity, has been waiting in an overwhelmed makeshift migrant camp under the bridge connecting Del Rio and Ciudad Acuna. He said he had not been fed at the camp, where migrants are sleeping under the International Bridge and jostling for shade in 99 degree Fahrenheit (37-degree Celsius) temperatures.
Although he initially was scared to cross back into Mexico, he was compelled to do so to feed his 3-year-old daughter. "I’ve been crossing once a day," said Ernesto, who wants to claim asylum. Sometimes, he said, he runs to avoid Mexican migration officials but is usually not bothered by them. "But now money is running out."
About 20 migrants interviewed by Reuters also said they had not been fed on the Texas side. The migrants showed Reuters tickets with numbers they had received from the U.S. Border Patrol. Several said other migrants told them they could be stuck at the camp for up to five days.
Border Patrol said in a statement it was increasing staffing in Del Rio to facilitate a "safe, humane and orderly process." Drinking water, towels and portable toilets have been provided, the statement added, while migrants wait to be transported to facilities.
U.S. border agents are still rapidly expelling almost all single adults and some families encountered at the border under a COVID-19-related order implemented by former President Donald Trump and kept largely in place by Biden.
`I can wait a little longer’
Carlos, a 27-year-old Venezuelan who left his home after graduating from college in July, said he thought the camp had doubled in size since he arrived Tuesday. Carlos, who declined to give his full name, said he had only $10 left and that there were 400 families ahead of him in the queue for processing.
Still more migrants were arriving. Yoandri Calzadilla, who said he was fleeing political persecution in Cuba, prepared to cross to Texas with his wife Thursday morning. They left Cuba in 2019, he said, starting off in French Guiana and slowly making their way up through South and Central America as they worked odd jobs.
"I’ve been waiting three years, living under bridges. I can wait a little longer here," he said.