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Immigrants who escaped the crackdown in Texas really feel trapped in Mexico


Fernando Llano / AP

A Haitian immigrant wades across the Rio Grande to Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.

The 35-year-old father weighed his options: return to the United States, where he could be sent back to Haiti, or stay in Mexico while authorities surrounded him and other immigrants.

Wood, who refused to give his full name for fear of retaliation from the US or Mexico, said he has no plan but must forge one if he is to take care of his wife and two daughters.

“I’d love to stay here in Mexico, but I’m scared because I don’t have permission to be here,” Wood told BuzzFeed News. “But the US could deport us. I don’t know what to do.”

Like hundreds of immigrants who left camp in Del Rio, Texas this week to avoid being flown to Haiti, the walls are closing around them, this time from the Mexican side of the border. Immigration agents, flanked by armed soldiers and police officers, raided the streets of Ciudad Acuña day and night, arresting immigrants and flying them to the southern Mexican states. Immigrants have been wandering back and forth across the precarious Rio Grande for days, moving to the side of the border that appears the friendliest to them.

On the Thursday before dawn, Mexican immigration officials drove into the camp, flanked by the local police and the National Guard. The immigrants, mostly Haitians, who had lived in a park in Ciudad Acuña, startled. The presence of the Mexican authorities was enough to scare some of them back to the US side of the border, a place they had previously abandoned after the Biden government began sending hundreds of immigrants back to Haiti. No one was arrested in the park, but the threat was lurking.

The Biden government has moved thousands of immigrants from the Del Rio area to other parts of the border to be brought into the country or deported. It has largely relied on Title 42 policies citing the pandemic as a reason border officials can quickly turn back asylum seekers in order to clear the Del Rio camp of thousands of Haitians. Within a few days, the US flew nearly 2,000 immigrants back to Haiti. More flights were expected on Friday to the country, which is struggling after an earthquake and an assassination attempt on the president.

Rodrigo Abd / AP

Pupils gather before the start of classes at the Sante Bernadette School in the former Fort Dimanche prison in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on September 23, 2021. The barren conditions show how far the country has to go – it will be rebuilt after an earthquake in mid-August.

Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Mayorkas said on Friday that the camp under the Del Rio International Bridge had been cleared and that no migrants had stayed there. Almost 30,000 immigrants have been encountered in Del Rio since September 9, Mayorkas said. Another 8,000 had voluntarily returned to Mexico, with another 5,000 waiting to be processed, which means they will either be expelled or allowed to stay in the country.

Mayorkas added that over 12,000 immigrants who entered the US would be heard on their cases.

He claimed that the application of Title 42 was necessary due to the pandemic and that it was not an immigration policy. He also noted that the policy allowed exceptions.

On Thursday, a Mexican immigration officer who gave BuzzFeed News only his last name, Rodriguez, said that he, along with the National Guard and local police, showed up in the park in Ciudad Acuña before sunrise and scared immigrants because the US was conducting an operation in Del Rio, and they feared that people would drown trying to return to Mexico.

But their early morning presence had the opposite effect on some immigrants who had waded across the Rio Grande to return to Del Rio, Texas. Mexican authorities soon blocked their access and cut a yellow rope that immigrants had used to cross the river.

Although many Haitians initially left their homes to go to Brazil or Chile after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, immigration policies in those countries had become more restrictive over the past five years, according to a report on Haitian women migrating from the year 2021. The report, released by the University of California’s Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, Hastings College of the Law, said the stricter restrictions have led many Haitians to travel to Mexico.

Jose Torres / Reuters

Immigrants from Central America, Haiti and Cuba stand in front of the Mexican Refugee Aid Commission to apply for asylum and refugee status in Mexico.

One of them was Wood, whose 12-year-old daughter passed out from dehydration last week at the Del Rio camp.

“When you take to the streets in Haiti, you have to pray that you will come back,” he said.

Wood emigrated with his family to Chile, where he tried to make a living – but it was difficult to find a well-paying job there.

He was considering returning to Chile, but that would mean traveling through the Darién Gap, a jungle that UNICEF calls one of the most dangerous routes in the world. It was the hardest part of the trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, Wood said, adding that criminals forcibly rob immigrants and rape women in the area.

“It’s something you cross once in a lifetime, not twice,” he said.

Standing at the camp that Wood slept with his family, Rodriguez, the immigration officer, said authorities had set up shelter in Ciudad Acuña for those who wanted to leave the park where they camped. He also said the immigrants could submit their refugee application process to the Mexican Refugee Aid Commission, albeit in the city of Tapachula in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

But Tapachula is a prison town for immigrants who do not have documents to leave the state or a work permit. If they try to leave without paying the smugglers thousands of dollars, they will face National Guard forces. For years there have also been violent clashes between attempts to emigrate and Mexican authorities who, under pressure from US officials, are trying to prevent them from continuing north. Last month, Mexican officials condemned the “inappropriate” actions of their agents after they violently bumped into immigrants in Tapachula.

Jose Torres / Reuters

Mexican agents arrest a member of a caravan of immigrants and asylum seekers hoping to reach Mexico City and obtain papers that would allow them to tour the country. The immigrants were fed up with waiting for the documents in Tapachula.

When Rodriguez told a group of immigrants that they would have to return to Tapachula if they hoped to complete their refugee process, they groaned and protested together, knowing what to expect there.

Diana, 30, from Colombia said she was selling water in Tapachula to cover her rent of about $ 200, but it was difficult. Waiting for the refugee process to complete takes months and meanwhile they have to find a way to make a living without a work permit, she said.

“How do you expect us to survive?” asked Diana Rodriguez. “We have nothing and then we try to leave and the National Guard beat us up.”