Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas who made the long, dangerous trek to try to get into the United States are now being sent back to their homeland, even though many fled the Caribbean nation years ago. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Sunday began deportation flights to Haiti as the number of migrants on the border swelled to more than 14,000.
Immigration authorities in Del Rio have been scrambling to contend with thousands of predominantly Haitian migrants who have arrived on the border over the past week seeking asylum. The first flights to Haiti began on Sunday with 320 migrants landing in Port-au-Prince aboard three chartered flights. Authorities said the deportation flights would continue.
Many arriving in Haiti said they were not told they would be flown back to a country they fled years ago and is currently in turmoil with both the brazen assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July, which remains under investigation, and the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in August.
“How could they bring us back here?” Johnson Bordes, 23, told the The Washington Post upon arrival in Haiti. He left at the age of 12 following the deadly 2010 earthquake and has no family there. Like many others, he and his family fled to South America before making the trek to the U.S. border. “This is an injustice. I don’t even know where we are going to sleep tonight.”
The mass deportation is unprecedented. Only once since 2014 has the United States deported more than 1,000 people to the country, The New York Times reported.
Haitian authorities also are overwhelmed with the influx of migrants returning at such a rapid rate.
“Fourteen thousand people are expected to descend on us here,” Jean Négot Bonheur Delva, head of Haiti’s Office of National Migration, told the Miami Herald. “It is too much.”
More than 14,000 migrants—many of whom had been living in Mexican cities—made the trek to the Texas border after rumors spread that migrants would be able to gain entrance into the United States through Del Rio, the Miami Herald reported. Thousands are now camped out under the international bridge.
“The majority of the people who are at Del Rio are people who have been in Mexico a very long time but in other cities, for example Tijuana,” Guerline Jozefa, co-founder of the Haitian Bridge Alliance told the Miami Herald. “There are a lot of rumors that if you go to Del Rio, you might be able to get access, so people just flooded Del Rio.”
Del Rio is one of many entry points along the Southwest border where authorities have seen a spike in the number of migrant crossings throughout the past year. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 200,000 crossings took place last month, bringing the total number during the past fiscal year to 1.5 million.
Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, blamed the spread of misinformation for the humanitarian crisis developing on the border.
“We are very concerned that Haitians that are taking the irregular migration path are receiving misinformation—that the border is open or that Temporary Protected Status is available to them despite the fact they are arriving long after the date that presents the deadline for TPS eligibility,” Mayorkas said in a call with journalists. “This is not the way to come to the United States.”
In response to the unfolding crisis in Del Rio, authorities are beefing up the law enforcement presence there. Officials have also blocked pathways to enter Texas through Mexico.
Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano likened conditions in the camp under the bridge to a shantytown, with limited access to necessities like bathrooms, clean water, or food, the Times reported. He said residents of the border city of 35,000 are anxious about the developing humanitarian crisis.
Tiffany Burrow, operations director for the Val Verde Humanitarian Border Coalition’s migrant respite center, told the Times that the influx of migrants is straining the city’s ability to provide essential services.
“We can’t help that many people,” Burrow said. “The city is not going to sustain all these people. The city under the bridge could become bigger than Del Rio.”
This story was updated on September 20 with latest developments.