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WASHINGTON – The Biden administration announced on Saturday that it would swiftly begin deporting Haitians who gathered by the thousands on the southern border last week after illegally entering the United States.
The move is intended to ease the flooding in the southern Texas border town of Del Rio and discourage more Haitians from coming to the United States, a strategy harshly criticized by human rights groups and opposed by some democratic lawmakers.
The Biden government has three flights scheduled for Sunday and more could be scheduled for the coming days, according to an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss evolving plans. The flights go to Haiti and to countries in South America where the migrants live.
According to the plan drawn up by the Department of Homeland Security, the administration will “increase the pace and capacity of deportation flights to Haiti and other destinations” over the next 72 hours. Many details of the plan – like the number of people on each flight or the treatment of people before they are put on a flight – were not immediately clear on Saturday.
After the devastating earthquake in August, followed by a violent tropical storm after weeks of unrest, the government temporarily suspended deportation flights to Haiti. But the sudden surge in migrant transfers over the past week has led them to change course.
The chaotic situation in which thousands of Haitians cross the Rio Grande every day to reach US soil presents the Biden administration with a new and urgent challenge that has been grappling with the increasing number of unauthorized migrants at the border for months.
President Biden, who promised to take a more humanitarian approach to immigration than his predecessor, has taken tough measures to stop the influx. But the government said its plan for dealing with the large crowd of Haitians was consistent with its enforcement policy.
“Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including deportation,” said Marsha Espinosa, assistant secretary of public affairs for the Department of Homeland Security. “Irregular migration poses a significant threat to the health and well-being of the border communities and the lives of migrants themselves and should not be attempted.”
More than 14,000 Haitians, many with mattresses, fruit, diapers and blankets, have crossed the ankle-deep river between Mexico and Del Rio and are camping under a bridge to await clearance by the U.S. Border Protection Agency. Some seek work in the United States, while others flee violence or racial discrimination in other countries.
To ease pressure on resources, the Department of Homeland Security said it has dispatched 400 agents to the Del Rio area and will dispatch additional personnel if necessary.
The assassination of the President of Haiti
It is said to also transfer migrants to other parts of the border that are currently less overwhelmed than Del Rio, a town of around 35,000 residents surrounded by mostly ranch land, thorny shrubbery, and mesquite trees and about 250 miles west of San Antonio lies.
Many of the migrants arrived after months of traveling overland from Brazil and Chile, where they were granted residence permits after an earthquake in 2010. The economies of these countries have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Others have left for the border after traveling directly to Mexico from Haiti days or months ago.
Return flights to Haiti come as the Biden administration appeals a court ruling that halts Trump-era policies of preventing migrant families from entering the US, a policy long criticized by immigration and human rights activists became, and even Vice President Kamala Harris as a Senator.
“This government has talked a lot about wanting a humane asylum system,” said Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney and the head of litigation against what is known as Title 42 health policy. “It is appalling that the administration sends a blanket message that the border is closed without recognizing that asylum seekers have no choice but to flee and get to safety.”
Eileen Sullivan reported from Washington and Miriam Jordan from Los Angeles.