October 25, 2021

“People Are Desperate”: Biden Vows Mass Deportations as Thousands of Haitian Refugees Shelter in Del Rio

15 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Texas at the Del Rio border crossing with Mexico, where thousands of Haitian migrants have set up a makeshift camp under the Del Rio International Bridge, including families with children who hope to seek asylum in the United States. Del Rio is about halfway between El Paso, in the west, and the Rio Grande Valley, to the southeast, and a three-hour drive from Laredo. At one point Saturday, there were reportedly more than 15,000 asylum seekers under the bridge. This is a 38-year-old Haitian migrant named Richerson describing the need to bring food and other supplies from the Mexican side of the border back to the camp.

RICHERSON: [translated] We are having a hard time. Our family sends us money, but we can’t eat. We have children but don’t have nappies. Look. Now I have to cross to the Mexican side with wet money to be able to buy things for the child, and we have nothing. We are unable to eat. I need help with everything that’s happening to us over there on the U.S. side, because there are a lot of children, and they are only removing the single parents, and the children are left alone. Just imagine. The children and pregnant women are the only ones left with possibilities, and they are separating the pregnant women on one side, but the children are being left on the floor. Just imagine. I have to go and buy food for the children.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has vowed to accelerate deportations to Haiti. On Sunday alone, the U.S. sent three deportation flights to Haiti, each carrying 145 asylum seekers, and several more are expected in the coming days. Last week, the Biden administration appealed a court order to stop using the COVID-19 pandemic as justification for expelling asylum-seeking families. This is U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz speaking Sunday in Del Rio after hundreds of agents shut down the border crossing.

RAUL ORTIZ: Our expectation is to have up to 3,000 migrants transferred out from underneath the bridge to our processing facilities or to a flight line within the next 24 hours.

AMY GOODMAN: Immigrant justice advocates are blasting what could be one of the largest mass deportations of asylum seekers in decades. Rights groups are also denouncing the U.S. government’s ongoing attempts to block Haitian asylum seekers from applying for refugee status, which is a violation of international law. This is a Haitian asylum seeker in Del Rio.

ALEX ROSIERE: [translated] I don’t want to be deported. If I’m deported now, I’ll die in Haiti. Why? Because there’s no security in Haiti. There are bandits. There is a civil war every day, civil war with the police, with the bandits, police civil war. Very complicated, because there’s no leadership in Haiti. There’s nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Haiti is still recovering from a devastating earthquake in August and a presidential assassination ini July.
We begin with Jacqueline Charles, the Haiti and Caribbean correspondent at the Miami Herald.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! You’re in Del Rio right now, usually covering what’s happening just on the island, but you are right here because so many thousands of Haitian asylum seekers are in Del Rio. Can you talk about what you’ve learned? What is the journey they are taking? And how are they being dealt with in Del Rio? I mean, the head of Border Patrol, Raul Ortiz, is actually from that area, the Del Rio area.
JACQUELINE CHARLES: Well, one of the problems is that the media, we are not being given any access whatsoever to this encampment. As you mentioned, the bridge has been closed, even on the Mexico side. I went to Ciudad Acuña a few days ago. You cannot access this bridge. So we don’t know what is happening.
What I’ve been told by some advocates that are here is that the way the process works is that when they move over, when they move though the Rio Grande, for instance, there’s an area where they have not yet presented themselves to Border Patrol. And then, once they present to Border Patrol, they have this number that they’re given. So, for instance, yesterday I spoke to migrant who was there for six days, and his number was 2,200-and-something. And that’s when you hear they talk about being detained or being jailed or not being able to get access to food. These are reports that we’re hearing. And there’s mixed reports. Some migrants said that they did have access to food; others say they don’t. I saw migrants on the Mexican side leaving in order to go get food and to bring food back into camp. And even when we went on the Mexican side, I went to a dam, which is a crossing in the Rio Grande. I actually walked through the Rio Grande and walked over to the U.S. side. But we were not allowed to advance, even though we were journalists.
So this is a huge issue, the lack of transparency around this, not just in terms of the processing and how they’re deciding, you know, maybe who they may let in or versus who they’re sending, but what we’ve been told and I’ve been told by the Haitian government is that they have been told to brace themselves. They are to receive at least 14,000. And that’s a huge number. And so, yesterday there were three flights. And you’re going to start to see three flights a day, maybe even more. There were children, there families that showed back up yesterday. So, this is difficult.
And when you talk to these migrants, unfortunately, there are a lot of rumors that are motivating them. So, the journey begins in Chile, or you could say that the journey began in Haiti after 2010. You have a large number of Haitians who ended up in Chile, Brazil. I did a story a few years ago. I traveled to Chile. In one year, that country received 1% of Haiti’s population: 100,000 Haitians migrated to Chile in a year. But life is very difficult for these Haitians there. They would like to remain in these countries, but they can’t. It’s very difficult. So they take this journey. And sometimes for some, it’s a couple of weeks; for some, it’s a couple of months, four months, through the Darién Gap, which is the jungles of South America. It’s very dangerous. Some people don’t even survive it. They spend thousands of dollars, and we’re talking about $4,000, $5,000, $7,000. They spend — they, you know, sell whatever they have. And they end up in Mexico.
What they are telling us is that life in Mexico is even more difficult than it was in Chile or Brazil. There is no jobs. It’s a hard time to even find housing. So, there’s, in one area, a state in Mexico where it’s been completely shut off to these migrants. And so, rumors have started to fly that, “Hey, Del Rio is open. That border is open.” Tijuana was closed. Laredo is closed. But Del Rio is open. So people started flocking to Ciudad Acuña, because in this community of Haitians, everything moves by word of mouth, and it moves by WhatsApp. I’ve heard rumors people think the cartels are involved. I’ve talked to migrants. Everybody tells me the same story. It’s word of mouth. The person who goes before you, they tell you what to do, how to pass, what to do. So, now all of a sudden we’ve got 15,000 people under this bridge, most of them Haitian. And now word is starting to spread that Haitians are being deported.
So, when I went to this dam, what was interesting is there were a number of Haitians who were there and they were contemplating their fate, contemplating their next move. Should they cross, or should they stay? There was one gentleman, Alex. His wife and his child were both inside. He came out in order to get food. When he came out to the Mexico side, that’s when he started to hear that the United States was starting to deport people. So, when I met him, he was sitting on the dam, on the concrete part on a slope, and he was contemplating. He actually was deciding that he probably will not go back in. I said, “You’re going to allow your wife and your child to go ahead of you without you?” He says, “Listen, if I go back to Haiti, they’re going to kill me. You know, so my wife and my child, they have a better chance, if they’re deported back to Haiti, than for me.”
So, this is the tragedy in all of this, that you have families that are divided, people that are trying to figure out what to do. And they are desperate, because they’ve gone through all of these countries, 11 countries through South and Central America, to reach what they’re thinking is El Dorado, only to find out, no, the border is not open. There is no TPS. You have been misled by misinformation. And even when they arrive in Haiti, I’m hearing people say that the government signed deportation papers. No, you weren’t even allowed to present your asylum claim to the United States, so there are no deportation papers. And as far as the U.S. is concerned, you broke U.S. law because you entered illegally. You know, so, definitely, I think, on both sides, the Haitian and the U.S., there has to be some sort of an education campaign, so people truly understand this process and what it is that they’ve done.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jacqueline Charles, I wanted to ask you, first of all, about the role of some of these South American governments — Chile, for example. Chile is not a densely populated country. And what was — how did the government deal with the migrants over the last decade or so, the Haitian migrants, when they arrived there? And also, what’s been the role of the Mexican government in dealing with the migrants, who obviously had to pass a long distance through Mexico, from the south to the north, to get to the border?
JACQUELINE CHARLES: So, let’s first start with Brazil. After 2010, there were a number of — thousands of Haitians who were fleeing through Brazil, and they were dying in the Amazon. And what the Brazilian government did is they started to provide humanitarian visas to Haitians who were coming, so that this could stop happening. They were very proactive. And at the same time, Brazil was preparing for the World Cup, and they were also preparing for the Olympics, and they needed the labor. So we saw a lot of Haitians. I don’t remember the number, but it was hundreds of thousands of Haitians who went to Brazil. And life was good in Brazil. You’re Black. It’s predominantly a Black country. They may not have known Portuguese, but, you know, they were struggling, but they were surviving, and they were able to send money back home.
Then the economy in Brazil turned. We had the whole corruption scandal. And so, Haitians said, “You know what? Let’s go to Chile. We can go to Chile. We can work. We can get money.” But then, when they went to Chile, Chile is not a country that’s very receptive to Black immigrants. You know, Blacks are less than 1% of the population, if that. So Haitians had a hard time, from the weather to the fact that they were staying in these apartments that were the size of closets. They were working 16-hour days, six days a week. I mean, when I went to Chile and visited and talked to them, I was there for over a week. It was a very difficult existence. And so they were looking for their next move. And so, now we started to see, you know, Haitians starting to move out. They were going by foot. They were going by bus. Maybe, depending on where they are, they had to fly, too. But this was basically mostly a foot journey that they were doing. And people were dying in the Darién Gap.
And what you started to see in countries in South and Central America, they started to close their borders, even Venezuela. You know, before Haiti changed its allegiance from Venezuela to the United States, Venezuela was a very friendly country to Haiti, right? They were shutting their borders. They were not allowing Haitians to cross through. We’ve seen Panama, thousands of Haitians who have been stuck in Panama, and even Costa Rica. And we’re continuing to see this.
And then they ended up in Mexico. And so, we’re talking around 2016, when you ended up in Mexico, and at this point we did not have deportations to the United States. When they got to Mexico, all of a sudden you get to a place like Tijuana, doesn’t have any Blacks, and all of a sudden you have all of these Haitian migrants all over the place. Central Americans are having a hard time trying to access. And then what happens? The Obama administration shuts down the border, and they resume deportations to Haiti after six years of having no deportations because of the 2010 deadly earthquake. So, people were now deciding, “OK, should I try to risk it, or should I stay?” They basically decided to stay, most of them, and they started developing a community. The Mexican government responded by also creating some sort of a residency program for Haitians to allow them to remain in Mexico legally. But over the years, that has not — that has been rolled back.
And so, what you have today is that you have Haitians in Mexico, either who have been here since 2016 or people who are newly arriving from these South American countries, and they cannot get work permits, they cannot get jobs. It is a very difficult situation. Their families in the U.S. or elsewhere are the ones having to send money to them. They’re staying in hotels, where maybe it’s $15 U.S. a day. So, they are now at a point of desperation. But they don’t want to go back to Haiti. You know, for them, this is a country that’s unstable. This is a country with a whole gang situation. This is a country that has changed in the two years, the six years, the 10 years, the 14 years that they have been away. So they take this chance, based on these false rumors, in an attempt to come to the United States. And so, this is the difficulty that you’re finding.
And one of the questions that has now come up is whether or not, or how much of an effort the Department of Homeland Security is really making to deport people not to Haiti, but back to Brazil or Chile or even Mexico, where some of these migrants actually have legal status. You know, some of them have legal status in this country, especially Brazil. And if given a choice, they would choose to go back there rather than go to Haiti, not because they don’t love their country, but because, as difficult as the place was that they left — Brazil, Chile — for them, it’s still a much better existence than it was in Haiti. At least they can work. You know, they can help their families.
But we are not getting any sort of — we asked this to DHS, Mayorkas, yesterday, secretary, at a press conference, and we wouldn’t get an answer. And that’s been the very difficult part of being a journalist on the story, is that immigration in the U.S. is already not very transparent. It’s very closed. It happens behind closed doors. But given the magnitude of this, we’re not getting access to the camps. We’re not getting the questions. We don’t know how they’re picking and choosing who goes, who stays. What we do know, though, is that thousands and thousands of people will find themselves back in Haiti in the coming days.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to bring in Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, welcome you back to Democracy Now! Your response to what has been happening, the dramatic footage over the weekend of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback seen attempting to corral the Haitian migrants with whips back to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande? What’s your sense of how this crisis has developed so quickly?
GUERLINE JOZEF: My apologies. That’s the reality on the ground. Thank you so much for having me. The picture you see, the horrific reality that we are living right now. And before we even go into more the details, it’s the narrative that people are using. I remember seeing one of the elected officials in the area, Ted Cruz, the first video he had, saying Haitians are invading our country, and they needed to be deported. So, the pictures you are seeing with this officer on his horse and literally whipping — seem to be whipping the Haitian migrants, the Black bodies, that is not a new picture in America. That is the picture of the system, of the anti-Black racism that the system is based upon. As a Black woman, as an American woman, as a Haitian woman, I am horrified by that picture. I am horrified that today, in 2021, we, as the United States of America, are behaving in such a way, where we literally do not even consider the humanity of a person, so that the world is watching, and that is the picture they are seeing. The picture they are seeing is of men on horseback whipping Black bodies. That is what the world is seeing in America right now. And for them to be deporting young children into Haiti right now, as Jacqueline Charles just described for you, it is unacceptable. We are in utter disbelief of what we are seeing right now.
And also we wanted to make clear that people understand that those 10,000 Haitians and other migrants who are under the bridge right now did not just come and storm the border. They have been here waiting for a chance to ask for asylum, which, by the way, is the legal thing for them to do. A lot of people end up entering without inspection, but it is not illegal for people to come and ask for asylum. But due to misinformation, as you heard from Jacqueline Charles, people are desperate. And if you tell them, “If you go here, you might have a chance to get protection,” so people are leaving their respective cities, such as Tijuana and other places, coming here, because they thought they might finally get protection, they might finally get to a space to call home, they might finally be able to sleep better at night. That is what we are seeing. We are not having an invasion of Haitians at the U.S.-Mexico border. We are seeing the consequence of the prior administration completely destroying the asylum system, completely destroying the immigration system with MPP, with the metering, with Title 42, that this administration continues to use as a trap to cage bodies, as we are seeing right now, Black bodies, and deport them to the very danger they have fled.
AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, Title 42 is the pandemic title that Trump invoked, but President Biden is enforcing, to say you can deport people during a pandemic for, quote, “public health reasons.” A judge just ruled that that is illegal, but the Biden administration is appealing that. Your response to that, Guerline?
GUERLINE JOZEF: Everything that we are seeing right now, we, within the community, within the movement, are completely baffled, as to why the judge just told the administration it is illegal for them to continue the use of Title 42, yet the administration, instead of doing the right thing, is actually fighting — right? — against really providing protection for the people. That is why we must push back.
We are tired. We are exhausted. But we are here. We are here to let the migrants, the asylum seekers know that they are not alone, we will continue to fight for them, we will continue to advocate for them, because their lives matter.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to —
GUERLINE JOZEF: The life of the Black boy, the Black man, that is being whipped by this officer, his life matters. So we must continue to fight. We are asking and urging the Biden administration to immediately stop all deportations to Haiti, in view of what’s happening. The world is watching America.