Panama’s foreign minister warned Wednesday that up to 60,000 migrants, many of them of Haitian origin, are making their way through the Central American country toward the US-Mexico border — threatening the Biden administration with a fresh illegal immigration crisis.
Erika Mouynes claimed in an interview with Axios that her government had notified the White House of the most recent migration surge, which culminated in more than 15,000 people gathering under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas and waiting to be picked up by border authorities earlier this month.
“We’ve engaged with every single authority that we can think of, that we can come across, to say, ‘Please, let’s pay attention to this,’” said Mouynes, who called on Washington to coordinate with other countries in the region on a plan to deal with the issue.
“We all have a role to play in this issue, and the regional approach is the correct approach,” she said. “It is impossible for Panama to solve it on its own.”
Mouynes met Monday and Tuesday in Washington with members of Congress as well as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. One lawmaker, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), told Fox News Wednesday that Mouynes had described how her country has seen “over 80,000 Haitian immigrants, Haitian evacuees, crossing from South America, through Panama, headed to the United States [this year].”
“This is all happening because Joe Biden and Kamala Harris refuse to enforce the law,” Cruz added, “and have essentially said anyone who wants to come to America, they’re gonna resettle them, they’re gonna give them benefits, they’re gonna let ’em stay, and it’s resulting in a public health crisis and a humanitarian crisis.”
Axios, quoting estimates from the Panamanian government, reported that nearly 27,000 migrants are expected to pass through the hazardous jungles of the Darien Gap region in this month alone — more than made the trip in all of 2019.
“Let’s recognize that they all are heading toward the US,” Mouynes said.
Most of the migrants left Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake for economic opportunity in South America. As jobs there have dried up, their hopes have focused on the US.
Mouynes told Axios that Panama has started a migrant quota system in partnership with its two immediate neighbors, Columbia and Costa Rica. However, she added, other South American countries need to set up similar systems in order to keep migration numbers manageable.
Mayorkas revealed earlier this week that 13,000 Haitian migrants from the most recent surge will have their cases heard by an immigration judge — 10,000 of whom have been released into the United States.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), another 8,000 had returned “voluntarily” to Mexico, while an additional 4,000 were being processed for expulsion or removal by DHS. Nearly 4,000 more were sent back to Haiti on a series of deportation flights.
President Biden famously handed off responsibility for the border issue to Vice President Kamala Harris, who embarked on a much-touted trip to Mexico and Guatemala in early June in an effort to address the “root causes” of illegal immigration.
However, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), pronounced last week that Harris’ tour had done nothing to fix the problem.