The Department of Homeland Security revealed late Wednesday that more than 4,600 migrants who gathered under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas in recent days have been removed from the makeshift encampment — but did not specify how many have been released into the US.
The department said that fewer than 5,000 migrants remained at the Del Rio site, which by some estimates held nearly 15,000 people before the Biden administration ordered removals to begin this past Sunday.
Since then, according to DHS, 1,401 migrants have been deported to Haiti, while another 3,206 have either been processed for expulsion under the pandemic-related authority known as Title 42 or “placed into removal proceedings” — which in this case means being released with a notice to appear at an immigration office within 60 days.
DHS did not specify how many of the 3,206 have been expelled under Title 42 and how many have been released into the US. The Associated Press, citing a US official, reported earlier Wednesday that the latter number was in the thousands and releases were taking place on a “very, very large scale.”
It is not clear how officials determine which migrants are deported and which are released into the US. However, Wade McMullen, an attorney with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, told the wire agency that most migrants he and other advocates have interviewed and who have been turned loose have been families with young children and pregnant women.
Migrants are being bused from Del Rio, a town of 35,000 people, to either El Paso, Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border for processing, another US official told the AP. Some are also being taken to Tucson, Ariz. on flights that were added this week.
The numbers released by DHS Thursday suggest that several thousand migrants have also opted to cross back over the Rio Grande into Mexico, likely gambling that their asylum claims will be looked upon more favorably there than in the US.
However, the Mexican government is taking its own steps to remove Haitian migrants from its soil as well. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that officials there were running flights from Piedras Negras, about an hour south of the US border, to Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala. Haitians taken there will be allowed to apply for asylum, while others may be made to go back to Guatemala.
The deportation of migrants to Haiti, where some have not lived for more than a decade, has caused outrage both in Port-au-Prince and Washington. Desperate migrants have tried any method, including violent assault, to avoid returning to their country of origin.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers say the chaos is another example of the Biden administration’s border policies encouraging a surge of illegal immigration that has overwhelmed authorities. Democrats have called for the deportation flights to cease and criticized Border Patrol agents who were seen using their horses to try and block migrants from crossing the Rio Grande over the weekend.
On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned those attempting to enter the United States illegally that “you will be returned.”
“Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life,” he said at a news conference.
The department repeated that line in a statement Wednesday responding to reports of widespread releases: “The Biden Administration has reiterated that our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey. Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including expulsion.”
DHS had been slow to provide details on the number of migrants deported from the border region during the Biden administration, with Mayorkas blaming his hectic work schedule for him not having the figures when asked about it during a House hearing earlier Wednesday.
With Post wires