On Saturday, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden ordered the expulsion of several hundred Haitian migrants who had been camping near a bridge over the Rio Grande River on the border between the U.S. city of Del Rio, Texas, and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.
The expulsions were conducted by the authorities involved with criteria deemed opaque and methods considered aggressive. The Biden administration has thus been highly criticized, accused of not fulfilling its promises to adopt a more “humane” approach to immigration management than that of Donald Trump. The migrants who had camped in Del Rio numbered about 15 thousand, most of them Haitians. Haitian authorities, cited by the Associated Press, said that between Sunday and Tuesday ten planes had arrived in Haiti that had brought hundreds of migrants back to the country, deported mostly on the basis of restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Based on the New York Times’ reconstruction, Haitians who were in Del Rio and were deported would be at least 1,500. Some police officers who spoke to the newspapers on condition of anonymity said that nevertheless “a very, very high number” of migrants were allowed to enter the United States: it is not known exactly how many, but it is said that thousands of people were allowed to enter with the obligation to present themselves within 60 days to the immigration offices to complete the application for asylum, something that would have allowed to lighten the operations of the border patrol. Other flights to Haiti would still be scheduled as of Wednesday. One of the unclear aspects of the expulsions of these days concerns the criteria with which it is established who must be repatriated and who instead can remain in the United States. Some agents quoted by Associated Press said that the priority of the U.S. government is to repatriate adults who do not have a family: according to Wade McMullen, a lawyer of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization that is following the expulsions, to enter the United States so far have been mainly pregnant women and families with young children. Meanwhile, a lot of videos and photos have been circulating on social media showing agents on horseback using whips and their animals to try to repel migrants. On Tuesday, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said that the treatment of migrants in Del Rio was “terrible” and that “no human being should be treated that way.” Harris added that the Department of Homeland Security has launched an internal investigation into the behavior of the officers involved. Most of the Haitian migrants who had set up camp in Del Rio did not come directly from Haiti, but arrived from other Latin American countries where they had been forced to migrate previously due to the numerous natural disasters, epidemics and great political instability that have characterized the Caribbean country in recent years. Many of the people who had set out to try to reach the United States, starting in Brazil and Chile, for example, had also felt they could take advantage of Biden’s immigration policies, which were apparently softer than those adopted by Trump. Biden had already been criticized on immigration in early 2021, when an extraordinary influx of migrants had challenged the system for receiving people and processing asylum applications. In 2020, the Trump administration had greatly reduced the arrival of migrants by taking advantage of the pandemic and using the so-called “Title 42,” an order issued by the then-Secretary of Homeland Security that banned all “non-essential” travel to limit the risk of contagion. Thanks to Title 42, the Border Patrol had the legal cover it needed to make summary deportations of hundreds of thousands of people. Despite the introduction of some exemptions, for example the one towards minors crossing the border with their parents, Biden had still decided to keep active the Title 42 wanted by Trump, which continued to be used to reject migrants. According to data released by the U.S. government, cited by the New York Times, from February to August of this year, U.S. authorities intervened in about 1.2 million border crossing attempts: Title 42 was used to reject more than half of the people who were trying to enter the United States.