The United States blocked the Mexican border on Sunday at an isolated Texas town where thousands of Haitian refugees have crossed and set up a camp, hoping to stop the flow of migrants as officials also began flying some of the migrants back to their homeland.
About a dozen Texas Department of Public Safety vehicles lined up near the bridge and river where Haitians have been crossing from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas, for almost three weeks. Yellow police tape is being used to block them from using a small dam to walk into the U.S.
A Mexican police officer on the Mexican side of the border said migrants won’t be allowed to cross anymore. He would not give his name.
Many of the migrants have lived in Latin America for years, but they are now are seeking asylum in the U.S. as economic opportunities in Brazil and elsewhere dry up. Thousands are living under and near a bridge in Del Rio.
Earlier Sunday, the U.S. sent three flights of Haitians back to their homeland. The planes are expected to arrive Sunday afternoon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that three flights departed San Antonio for Port-au-Prince and would arrive in the afternoon. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Scores of people waded back and forth across the Rio Grande on Saturday, re-entering Mexico to purchase water, food and diapers in Ciudad Acuña before returning to the Texas encampment.
Junior Jean, a 32-year-old man from Haiti, watched as people cautiously carried cases of water or bags of food through the knee-high river water. Jean said he lived on the streets in Chile the past four years, resigned to searching for food in garbage cans.
“We are all looking for a better life,” he said.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry wrote Sunday on Twitter that he is concerned about conditions at the border camp and that the migrants would be welcomed back.
“We want to reassure them that measures have already been taken to give them a better welcome upon their return to the country and that they will not be left behind,” he tweeted. Henry did not provide details about the measures. A Haitian government spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Another Haitian political leader questioned Sunday whether the nation could handle an influx of returning migrants and said the government should stop the repatriation.
“We have the situation in the south with the earthquake. The economy is a disaster, (and) there are no jobs,” Election Minister Mathias Pierre said, adding that most Haitians can’t satisfy basic needs. “The prime minister should negotiate with the U.S. government to stop those deportations in this moment of crises.”
It is unclear how such a large number amassed so quickly, though many Haitians have been assembling in camps on the Mexican side of the border to wait while deciding whether to attempt entry into the U.S.