Posted on September 24, 2021

Thousands of Haitians Allowed to Stay in U.S. as Texas Camp Clears Out

Edgar Sandoval et al., New York Times, September 23, 2021

In Houston, nearly 2,000 Haitian migrants have arrived this week from the small border community of Del Rio, with buses pulling up to a huge shelter nearly every hour. In San Antonio, hundreds more have been allowed by the U.S. authorities onto flights to destinations as far away as New York, Boston and Miami, paperwork in their pockets permitting them to remain in the country.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported about 2,000 migrants in recent days on chartered flights to Haiti as the Biden administration tries to deter more people from rushing to the border. But the authorities have also permitted thousands more to travel to cities across America, where they may live for months or years as they await immigration hearings.

“We are so happy to be in America,” said Inso Isaac, 40, who left Haiti years ago and was living in Chile until he, his wife and their 2-year-old son made the dangerous journey across several countries and arrived last week in Del Rio. On Wednesday, the family boarded a flight to New York, where they planned to stay with relatives on Long Island. “We want to start a new life here,” he said.

A chance to settle in the United States, however slim, has driven the latest surge, compelling more than 14,000 migrants to wade across the Rio Grande and into Del Rio over the past week, where they have encountered armed National Guard troops and Border Patrol agents on horseback. On Thursday, about 3,100 remained huddled in squalid conditions under the international bridge that connects Del Rio to Mexico, circumstances that have prompted outrage from both Republicans and Democrats.

Images of the agents on horseback rounding up migrants and of dozens of state police vehicles blocking entrance across the river have fueled criticism from Democratic lawmakers and administration officials that the Haitians are being treated inhumanely. On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security said the horse patrol unit in Del Rio had been temporarily suspended and that the agents’ actions were being investigated. The U.S. special envoy to Haiti has also resigned in protest of mass deportations, two officials said, and sent a blistering letter to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.

“I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs to daily life,” Daniel Foote, who was appointed to the position in July, wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a news briefing on Thursday that officials had aimed to rapidly turn away single adults and migrant families. But some groups, including pregnant women and families with young children, have been allowed to remain in the United States because some countries accepting the deportees will not accept migrant families with young, vulnerable children.


Still, criticism from immigration advocates continued building on Thursday over the decisions as to who could stay and who could not. More than two in three Haitian migrants who have been expelled from the border and returned to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, are women and children, according to initial estimates from UNICEF. Meanwhile, conservatives criticized the Biden administration for admitting so many others.


Under President Donald J. Trump, the asylum system was essentially brought to a halt, as almost no migrants were allowed to enter the country while their claims for protection were heard; instead, they were required to remain in Mexico {snip} By contrast, the Biden administration has allowed more to enter, and remain in, the United States while their asylum cases unfold.

But because the immigration courts are severely backed up, the process can take several years, allowing people to effectively settle in the United States. {snip}


In Houston, hundred of Haitians were taken in at shelters. At one site, about 300 people were arriving every day this week, said Carlos Villarreal, an elder with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates that shelter. His shelter was only receiving families, he said, and many of them included children or pregnant women.

“At least 25 percent of the families include pregnant women,” Mr. Villarreal said. {snip}