Haitian Migrant Camp in Mexico Surrounded by Police, Prompting Some to Rush Toward U.S.

Haitian migrants in a growing camp of thousands in Mexico were awaken by security forces and a helicopter overhead on Thursday, sending many running, panicked, into the Rio Grande River, the Associated Press reported.

A camp in Texas was whittled to 3,671, Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens announced Thursday morning. The reduction came after authorities spent the previous day driving the migrants out of the camp, added Owens, the top elected official in the county.

Across the river in a park in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, state police overwhelmed the other encampment, with trucks spaced every 30 feet between tents and the water's edge. Dozens of families decided to cross the river where there was only one municipal police vehicle, rather than risk a run-in with U.S. Border Patrol.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Del Rio
Migrants, many from Haiti, are seen in an encampment along the Del Rio International Bridge near the Rio Grande River on September 23, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas. Julio Cortez/AP Photo

The United States and Mexico appeared eager to end the increasingly politicized humanitarian situation at the border, even as the U.S. expulsion of Haitians to their troubled homeland caused blowback for the administration of President Joe Biden.

The Biden administration's special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, submitted a letter of resignation protesting the "inhumane" large-scale expulsions of Haitian migrants, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The entrance to the park was blocked and just outside, National Guard troops and immigration agents waited along with three buses. A helicopter flew overhead.

The camp's usual early morning hum was silenced as migrants tried to decide what to do.

Guileme Paterson, a 36-year-old from Haiti, appeared dazed. "It is a difficult moment," she said before beginning to cross the Rio Grande with her husband and their four children.

The Mexican authorities' operation appeared designed to drive the migrants back across the river into Texas. A fence line and the line of state police vehicles funneled the migrants back to the crossing point they had been using all week.

The buses that had been waiting left empty. The majority of the camp's migrants remained.

"Bad, bad, bad, things are going badly," said Michou Petion, carrying her 2-year-old son in her arms toward the river. Her husband carried bags of their belongings and had several pairs of sneakers dangling around his neck.

"The U.S. is deporting a lot to Haiti. Now I don't know if I can enter or leave," Petion said.

"We're talking to a lot of people and they are nervous, they're afraid, they're desperate," said Christoph Jankhoefer of the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, which is working in the Ciudad Acuña camp. "Two women were crying because they didn't want to be deported to Guatemala."

In recent weeks, Mexican authorities had been dropping off migrants from other countries at the Guatemalan border.

On the U.S. side, the government had been accelerating efforts to clear the camp in recent days, releasing many migrants with notices to appear later before immigration authorities and flying hundreds of Haitians back to their country.

The camp held more than 14,000 people over the weekend, according to some estimates.

"Yesterday...we had 54 of the big buses running and then they had 12 more coming in and then they had 60 passenger vans running and they had six more coming in from El Paso," said Owens, the Val Verde official.

The Homeland Security Department has been busing Haitians from Del Rio, a town of 35,000 people, to El Paso, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border, and this week added flights to Tucson, Arizona, the official said. They are processed by the Border Patrol at those locations.

Just outside the camp, a line of Border Patrol agents and Texas state troopers combed through the tall carrizo cane Thursday morning, apparently looking for any migrants who were on the outskirts.

Debris and garbage inside the camp were swept into neat piles.

Meanwhile, Foote, who was appointed as U.S. envoy for Haiti only in July, wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he was stepping down immediately "with deep disappointment and apologies to those seeking crucial changes."

"I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs to daily life," he wrote. "Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my policy recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own."

The career diplomat was known to be deeply frustrated with what he considered a lack of urgency in Washington and a glacial pace on efforts to improve conditions in Haiti.

At least one top official in Haiti cheered Foote's resignation as he accused the U.S. Border Patrol of violating the rights of Haitian migrants.

"This is the first time we see a U.S. diplomat who has decided to go against the will of the U.S. government," Mathias Pierre, Haiti's elections minister, told AP. "We salute that."

He called on the U.S. government to improve its treatment of migrants and questioned why it seemed so focused on deporting them.

Del Rio, Texas
A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande River near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on September 19, 2021. PAUL RATJE / AFP/Getty Images