Texas: thousands of migrants gather under border bridge in makeshift camp

Thousands of migrants and refugees have gathered under the bridge that connects Del Rio in Texas and Mexico’s Ciudad Acuña, creating a makeshift camp with few basic services in intense heat in the latest border emergency facing Joe Biden.

The mayor of Del Rio, Bruno Lozano, said that as of early Thursday evening 10,503 people were under the Del Rio International Bridge, up from 8,200 in the morning.

Food and water have been scarce, about 20 people told Reuters, and temperatures have risen to about 99F (37C). Reuters witnessed hundreds of people wading through the Rio Grande river and back into Mexico to stock up on essentials they say they are not receiving on the US side.

They are mostly Haitians, with Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans also present.

“Border patrol is overwhelmed,” the Val Verde county sheriff, Joe Frank Martinez, told the Texas Tribune. “They just can’t process them fast enough, so there’s a backlog of these individuals underneath the bridge. They’re not detained, they’re just gathered there waiting their turn to get processed.”

The squalid conditions are reflective of the humanitarian crisis facing Biden as border arrests hover around 20-year highs. US authorities arrested more than 195,000 migrants at the Mexican border in August, according to government data released on Wednesday.

Lozano warned that the stream of people staying under the bridge posed health and safety concerns, partly because the camp’s jam-packed conditions risk the spread of Covid-19.

“We need quick action from the administration. We need quick attention to this. We need a response in real time,” Lozano said.

Ernesto, a 31-year-old Haitian, slipped back into Mexico on Thursday to buy water and food – for the fourth time, he said, since arriving in the United States on Monday morning. Ernesto, who declined to give his surname to protect his identity, said he and his three-year-old daughter had not been fed at the camp, where many are jostling for shade.

Sometimes, he said, he runs to avoid Mexican migration officials but is usually not bothered by them. “But now money is running out,” he added.

Some showed Reuters tickets with numbers they had received from US border patrol. Several said others told them they could be stuck at the camp for up to five days.

Border patrol said in a statement it was increasing staffing in Del Rio to facilitate a “safe, humane and orderly process”. Drinking water, towels and portable toilets have been provided, the statement added, while people wait to be transported to facilities.

Biden, a Democrat who took office in January, has rolled back many of the hardline immigration measures of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.

But he has been caught between pro-migrant groups and some Democrats who have criticized him for not doing more to reform the dysfunctional US immigration and asylum system that is failing to properly deal with thousands of desperate migrants and refugees arriving at the border, as well as opponents who say his policies have encouraged unauthorized immigration.

More than 50 Democratic lawmakers urged the Biden administration to halt deportations to Haiti on Friday. In a letter to the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, the lawmakers said: “The Haitian government’s ability to safely receive its citizens will take months, if not years, to secure.”

“The Biden administration cannot claim it is doing everything it can to support the Haitian community while continuing to unjustly deport Haitians as the island weathers its worst political, public health and economic crises yet,” congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said in a statement.

​​“This is a disaster, and it is a manmade disaster. It is the result of political decisions, and Joe Biden could end this tomorrow by simply following the law,” the Republican senator Ted Cruz said in Del Rio on Thursday.

“This is wrong. This is not humane. This is not compassionate. This is lawless, and it is inviting suffering. This needs to end.”

The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, a Republican, directed the department of public safety and the Texas national guard to shutter six ports of entry along the southern border “to stop these caravans from overrunning our state”, he told the Texas Tribune on Thursday.

Texas was “shutting down the ports of entry at the request of and in collaboration with CBP”, Abbott’s spokesperson said. Yet a CBP spokesperson had no information from the federal government about shutting down ports of entry.

Hours later, Abbott claimed the Biden administration had reversed CBP’s request for help. But Abbott was still directing the DPS and the state’s national guard “to maintain their presence at and around ports of entry to deter crossings”.

“The Biden administration is in complete disarray and is handling the border crisis as badly as the evacuation from Afghanistan,” Abbott said.

Del Rio is in Val Verde county, which voted for Trump in 2020. Some residents in this sprawling, bilingual border town say they feel abandoned by the federal government on border security.

“Are they doing anything to stop them from coming?” one woman said while she looked down at the encampment while driving over the bridge.

Carlos, a 27-year-old Venezuelan who said he left his home after graduating university in July, said he thought the camp had doubled in size since he arrived on Tuesday. Carlos, who declined to give his full name, said he had only $10 left, and that there were 400 families ahead of him in the queue for processing.

Both migrants and Mexican officials said many more people are expected in coming days. Some told Reuters they had chosen to cross here because the river is shallow and they felt there was comparatively less cartel activity.

Jeff Jeune, a 27-year-old Haitian who was reselling water bottles for a 3 peso (15 cent) profit, said he and his young family were exhausted, hungry and sleeping on the ground. He fretted about his kids falling ill in the makeshift camp.

“My 10-year-old asks: ‘When are we leaving?’ He’s always asking that.”

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