The first wave of Haitians deported from a massive encampment under a Texas bridge arrived back in their home country over the weekend, with some returning for the first time in years.
The Biden administration began special expulsion flights to the Caribbean nation Sunday after nearly 15,000 migrants — the vast majority originally from Haiti — congregated under the bridge that links Ciudad Acuña, Mexico with Del Rio, Texas. Some waded back and forth across the Rio Grande to gather supplies before hunkering down and waiting to be picked up by Border Patrol.
On Monday, US officials said that nearly 6,000 migrants had been removed from the encampment. Similarly, the Mexican government began busing migrants from Ciudad Acuña Sunday evening to the cities of Monterrey and Tapachula, from where they would be flown on to Haiti.
Many of the migrants came to the border via Central and South America, where they had settled following the 2010 earthquake that killed thousands and devastated Haiti’s fragile economy.
Johnson Bordes, 23, was one of those who left Haiti with his family more than a decade ago. On Sunday, they returned to the capital city of Port-au-Prince, courtesy of the US government.
“How could they bring us back here?” Bordes told the Washington Post. “This is an injustice. I don’t even know where we are going to sleep tonight.”
“If Biden continues with these deportations, he’s no better than Trump,” Bordes added. “I’m afraid for my safety here. I don’t even know this country anymore.”
Sonia Pinard, who traveled from Chile to the border with her husband and their three children because they heard that “President Biden was letting people in,” recalled to the paper that they were put on a deportation flight after spending two nights at a detention center, where they slept on a cement floor. She claimed they were not told where the flight was going and felt like they had been “kidnapped to be sent back to Haiti.”
“They did not even tell us what they were doing,” she said. “They said our names, and they said they are bringing us somewhere else. We did not know we were going back to Haiti. Nobody told us we were going back to Haiti.
“We need to go back to Chile, but now we have no money left and no home. What will become of my children?” Pinard asked. “How could Biden do this to us?”
In May, the Biden administration re-designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) on Saturday, allowing Haitian nationals in the US to live and work legally for another 18 months. In a statement announcing the move, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described Haiti as “experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Fewer than two months later, early on the morning of July 7, Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated at his home. The resulting political turmoil, along with another deadly earthquake last month, has brought the country’s government — never fully in command — to the brink of collapse. Gangs control roughly a third of Port-au-Prince, where some traffic circles are littered with burned tires and other materials piled up to be used as barricades.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was appointed to the position just weeks after Moïse’s killing, has pledged to help the deportees as other government officials warn that Haiti is not prepared to handle them.
Giuseppe Loprete, Haiti mission chief for the International Organization for Migration, told the Washington Post that new arrivals were being given the equivalent of $50 in cash and another $50 in cell phone transfers, along with a hot meal, hygiene kits and psychological counseling.
“When they realize they are coming back to Haiti, it’s really difficult for them,” he said. “Some of them, they don’t have any contacts anymore with their families, or they live in areas that are now no longer accessible because of the earthquake or the gangs.”
Jean Negot Bonheur Delva, the head of Haiti’s national migration office, made a point of telling reporters Sunday that those flown in by the US and Mexican governments were being resettled against their will.
“For these people, Haiti is hell,” he said.