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US officials defend expulsion of Haitians from Texas town

Associated Press

DEL RIO, Texas — More than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have been removed from an encampment at a Texas border town, U.S. officials said Monday as they defended a strong response that included immediately expelling migrants to their impoverished Caribbean country and using horse patrols to stop them from entering the town.

Calling it a “challenging and heartbreaking situation,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a stark warning: “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life.”

Isaac Isner, 30, and his wife Mirdege, took wet clothing off their 3-year-old daughter Isadora after crossing the Rio Grande to Ciudad Acuña Monday afternoon. They had been in Texas for seven days but decided to return to Mexico after a friend showed cellphone video of the U.S. expelling migrants.

“They were putting people on a bus and sent them to Haiti just like that without signing anything,” Isner said.

His family has an appointment this month with Mexico’s asylum agency in the southern city of Tapachula, and they think they could be safe in Mexico.

Most migrants, however, still haven’t made up their minds.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” said a second Haitian man, who declined to give his name but said he crossed Mexico Monday for food, leaving his wife and child in Del Rio. “The U.S. is deporting and now Mexico won’t just sit back and do nothing. We don’t know where to go.”

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, said about 15% of the Haitian migrants in Mexico have accepted refuge there. So far this year, about 19,000 Haitian migrants have requested asylum in Mexico.

“Mexico does not have any problem with them being in our country as long as they respect Mexico’s laws,” he said.

Mexico was busing Haitian migrants from Ciudad Acuña Sunday evening, according to Luis Angel Urraza, president of the local chamber of commerce. Mexico’s immigration agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But a federal official told The Associated Press on Sunday that the plan was to take the migrants to Monterrey, in northern Mexico, and Tapachula, in the south, with flights to Haiti from those cities to begin in coming days.

Mayorkas and U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said they would look into agents on horseback using what appeared to be whips and their horses to push back migrants at the river between Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, and Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of migrants remain camped around a bridge.

Both officials said they saw nothing apparently wrong based on the widely seen photos and video. Mayorkas said agents use long reins, not whips, to control their horses. Ortiz, the former chief of the Del Rio sector, said it can be confusing to distinguish between migrants and smugglers as people move back and forth near the river. The chief said he would investigate to make sure there was no “unacceptable” actions by the agents.

“We’re achieving our goals; we’re getting there and getting to a point where we can manage the population here,” said Ortiz, who blamed the surge on smugglers who spread misinformation. “We are already seeing a quickly diminished (population) and will continue to see that over the coming days.”

Mayorkas said 600 Homeland Security employees, including from the Coast Guard, have been brought to Del Rio, a city of about 35,000 people roughly 145 miles west of San Antonio. He said he has asked the Defense Department for help in what may be one of the swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants and refugees from the United States in decades.

He also said the U.S. would increase the pace and capacity of flights to Haiti and other countries in the hemisphere. The number of migrants at the bridge peaked at 14,872 on Saturday, said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union that represents agents.

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