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Biden Administration Shuts Down Del Rio, Texas Ports Of Entry As Migrant Encampment Grows To 14,000

Migrants are seen by the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S., in Del Rio
Migrants are seen by the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S., in Del Rio, Texas, U.S., September 16, 2021, in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken September 16, 2021. OFFICE OF U.S. CONGRESSMAN TONY GONZALES (TX-23)/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced late Friday that it will temporarily close and re-route traffic from Del Rio to Eagle Pass in order to respond to the “urgent safety and security needs” presented by thousands of migrants waiting underneath the international bridge connecting Del Rio with Ciudad Acuña.

According to Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano, more than 14,000 migrants are waiting underneath the bridge. That's almost half the size Del Rio, a city of about 35,000 people.

Most of the migrants are from Haiti, which experienced massive upheaval over the summer following the assassination of the country's president and a devastating earthquake which killed more than 2,200 people. According to Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a large number of the Haitian migrants at the bridge have been living in South America for years and made the dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“And so some of this is almost certainly the frustration of people that had been waiting a long time in southern Mexico and wanting to continue their journey to the U.S,” he said, adding that others had originally settled in South America after a 2010 earthquake.

“But also the large numbers of people who've come through Central America recently, coming through the Darien Gap, and originally coming from Ecuador, Chile and Brazil.”

Lozano said many of the migrants are waiting to be processed and detained by Border Patrol. He called the situation unsustainable, issuing a local disaster declaration and limiting access to the bridge.

“The migrants are getting agitated. The Border Patrol can't keep up with feeding during lunch time,” Lozano said in a Thursday press conference. “The facilities, the quality of life, the standard of living is all being stretched beyond its capabilities.”

Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. wait to be processed on the Mexico-U.S. border
Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. bathe and wash their clothes in the Rio Grande river near the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S. as they wait to be processed, in Del Rio, Texas, U.S., September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Go Nakamura
Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Border and Immigration News Desk, including the Catena Foundation and Texas Mutual Insurance Company.

Lozano has been pleading with the Biden administration for help on Twitter. The Del Rio mayor said he expects several thousand more migrants could arrive in the coming days.

CBP said it has temporarily closed the Del Rio International Bridge and Amistad Dam International Bridge, rerouting traffic 57 miles east to the Eagle Pass Port Of Entry, to ensure uninterrupted trade and travel while it responds to the situation. The Del Rio Ports of Entry, like all U.S. land ports, had been closed to "non-essential" travel since the start of the pandemic, but this CBP action marks a rare time that a major trade hub has been shut down entirely.

The Biden administration announced Saturday that it is sending 400 more CBP agents and officers to Del Rio to take "urgent humanitarian actions."

"DHS has already taken a number of steps to ensure the safety and security of individuals as they await processing, including having Border Patrol emergency medical technicians on hand and providing water, towels, and portable toilets," DHS said in a press release Saturday.

The Biden administration is also planning to send many of the migrants back to Haiti. An administration official told the Associated Press that details are still being finalized but will likely include five to eight flights a day — with some flights coming out of San Antonio, the closest major city.

The White House has directed U.S. agencies to work with the Haitian and other regional governments to provide assistance and support to returnees.

The expulsion flights are being conducted under Title 42, a seldom-used part of U.S. Code that deals with public health. The Trump administration enacted Title 42 at the start of the pandemic to expel migrants in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Biden administration has continued it over objections from immigrant rights groups, who say the policy violates U.S. legal obligations towards people looking to seek asylum.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan found that the Title 42 policy does not authorize the expulsion of migrant families or for the government to deny them the opportunity to seek asylum. The judge granted a preliminary injunction that goes into effect in 14 days.

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As TPR's news director, Katz leads the organization’s news and journalism efforts, overseeing the newsroom’s day-to-day management and the development of a strategic vision for the news division. He also serves on the organization’s executive leadership team.
Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules
Carolina Cuellar reports for Texas Public Radio from the city of McAllen where she covers business and border issues. Her position is made possible by Report For America — a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.