The United States ramped up its Haitian migrant deportation flights from the state of Texas back to Haiti on Wednesday, even as thousands of other Haitians were being allowed into the U.S. on the promise to appear at an immigration office within 60 days.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. was deporting Haitians to their homeland under a health code provision, citing the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to clear the border as quickly as possible.
These deportees were being sent home without the opportunity to request asylum proceedings, while others are being registered and permitted, at least for weeks, to stay on U.S. soil. An estimated 14,000 Haitians have flocked from Mexico to the border city of Del Rio, Texas, but it was unclear why some were deported and others were not.
Thousands of the Haitian migrants have been released into the U.S. in recent days, according to an Associated Press report, expanding on a VOA account Tuesday that several hundred had been freed.
Many of the migrants had been living in Chile, Brazil and other South American countries after fleeing the rubble of a 2010 earthquake in Haiti. But they trekked to the U.S. border near Del Rio based on erroneous social media accounts that a crossing there was open. U.S. officials have repeatedly urged migrants to stay where they are.
The U.S. was planning as many as five deportation flights on Wednesday, with 135 migrants aboard each flight, to Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and Haiti’s second-biggest city, Cap-Haitien. Seven flights were set for Thursday.
Since Sunday, more than 1,000 migrants have been sent back to Haiti, a place where many of them have not lived for a decade.
The VOA Creole Service reported that Haitian authorities did not allow journalists into airports Wednesday to meet with the deportees.
The deportation policy has drawn criticism from immigration activists who say the migrants should be allowed to make asylum claims to stay in the U.S.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, normally an ally of President Joe Biden, on Tuesday urged the U.S. leader and Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas “to immediately put a stop to these expulsions,” contending the flights echoed “the hateful and xenophobic” policies of former president Donald Trump “that disregard our refugee laws.”
Mayorkas told a congressional hearing that government officials hope to clear out the migrant camp under the bridge at Del Rio within the next nine or 10 days.
"We expect to see dramatic results in the next 48 to 96 hours, and we'll have a far better sense in the next two days," he said.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a staunch critic of Biden’s administration and its handling of migrants at the border, ordered state workers to line up dozens of state-owned cars, in a side-to-side, kilometers-long “steel wall” to try to keep more migrants from surging past overwhelmed U.S. border agents into Texas.
Abbott estimated that 8,600 migrants remain at the Del Rio International Bridge, down from the estimated 14,000 encamped there last weekend.
The Texas governor blamed the Biden administration for the chaos at the border.
"When you have an administration that is not enforcing the law in this country, when you have an administration that has abandoned any pretense of securing the border and securing our sovereignty, you see the onrush of people," Abbott said at a news conference in Del Rio.
Meanwhile, immigration authorities have launched an investigation into scenes at the border last Sunday of U.S. horseback-mounted border agents corralling some of the Haitians and forcing them back into Mexico.
Top U.S. officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Mayorkas, condemned the actions of the agents as captured on video and in photographs.
Mayorkas told lawmakers on Wednesday that the scenes of the border agents’ treatment of the migrants “correctly and necessarily were met with our nation’s horror.”
“They do not reflect who we are as a country,” he said, nor the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
In a statement, Denise Bell, a researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA, said, “The Biden administration has had months to reshape how the United States treats and welcomes people and time and time again, it has failed. People seeking safety deserve much better than this from an administration that promised humanity and dignity.”