DEL RIO, Texas — Some of the thousands of Haitian migrants who crossed from Mexico into a Texas border camp were flown back to their poverty-stricken homeland Sunday by the United States in an effort to deter others from crossing into the country.
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.
Many of the migrants have lived in Latin America for years but now are seeking asylum in the U.S. as economic opportunities in Brazil and elsewhere dry up. Thousands have been living under and near a bridge in the Texas border city of Del Rio, and many of them said they will not be deterred by the U.S. plans.
“In Haiti, there is no security,” said Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian who arrived in Texas with his wife and two daughters. “The country is in a political crisis.”
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.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Saturday that it moved about 2,000 migrants from the camp to other locations Friday for processing and possible removal. A statement from the agency also said it would have 400 agents and officers in the area by Monday morning and would send more if necessary.
The announcement marked a swift response to the sudden arrival of Haitians in Del Rio, a Texas city of about 35,000 people roughly 145 miles (230 kilometers) west of San Antonio. It sits on a relatively remote stretch of border that lacks capacity to hold and process such large numbers of people.