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Desperation Meets Dysfunction on the Southern Border

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DEL RIO, Texas — On a metal bench outside this city’s small airport, a 27-year-old woman named Nephtalie sat with her husband as he spoke anxiously on the phone in Haitian Creole. Behind them, the airport was closed for the night, and the parking lot was empty. It was a little after 10 p.m. on Tuesday. The two had managed to buy tickets for a 6 a.m. flight to Chicago the next morning, where she has family. But with every hotel within 100 miles of Del Rio fully booked and little money to spend on a room anyway, they would have to weather the elements outside for the night until the airport reopened. The couple was more relieved than anything. They’d spent the last few days under a bridge at the border where as many as 15,000 migrants this weekend (down to about 5,000 today), mostly Haitians like them, have been camped, closed in on all sides by U.S. border agents and Texas state troopers.

At the bridge, about 4 miles south of the airport in Del Rio, the scene looks like a war camp, with hundreds of armed agents positioned on a field near thousands of migrants living in squalor. When some 15,000 people crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico in the past week or so, it brought a spotlight on this Texas border town of 35,000, which has not been a historically popular crossing point (though it has seen more than 200,000 migrant encounters in the last year). It also raised the question of why and how so many migrants, particularly Haitians, arrived at the same time and the same place along the border. The answer is a mix of misinformation and desperation, exacerbated by the Biden administration’s application of draconian deterrence with seemingly random mercy.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security sent hundreds of additional U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to Del Rio, called in the Coast Guard for reinforcement, and announced the administration’s plans to put migrants on planes and fly them out of the country, including sending many back to Haiti. At the same time, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott seized on the situation to mobilize hundreds of state troopers and Texas National Guard officers to Del Rio to “secure the border,” including by creating a “steel wall” of patrol vehicles to prevent more migrants from entering the country.

The highway to the port of entry between the U.S. and Mexico that so many Del Rio residents are used to crossing everyday has been closed until further notice, and the massive presence of officers from different state and federal agencies, along with helicopters overhead, gives the city a sense of military occupation. But that occupation has done little to fix the country’s broken immigration system, of which the scenes in South Texas are only the latest symptom.

The harshest and most dramatic coverage of the recent migrant crisis — photos of Black immigrants being rounded up by CBP officers on horseback, stories of the dire conditions in the camp under the bridge — only hint at the bigger picture on the ground, in which people on both sides of the border, Mexico and the U.S., are living in a state of subjective and at times seemingly arbitrary enforcement of policy. In Del Rio this past week, but across the border for months now, people of any number of nationalities are getting through in small numbers, finding themselves suddenly relieved to be in the U.S. but at the same time uncertain about their future, let alone where they’ll sleep at night. On the other side, a growing mix of migrants is waiting, uncertain whether to cross and risk the consequences of not being let in or to stay and wait for a better opportunity that may not come. Ever constant is the threat of being sent back to their home countries, a fate most who have crossed up to now have been dealt.

The past few days in Del Rio, white prison transport vans have rolled at a steady rate down the dusty road to the bridge, where agents have forced migrants to board. From there, groups of migrants have been taken to the town’s airport, or nearby ones in San Antonio, Laredo and Brownsville, where they’ve been placed on flights back to their home countries. In order to do so without allowing these people their legal right to plead their case for asylum in court, President Joe Biden has relied on Title 42, a public health order implemented last year by the Trump administration to summarily expel border-crossers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I followed one bus to the........

© Politico

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