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Thousands of Haitian migrants are being deported on both sides of the US-Mexico border – in Del Rio, Texas, and neighboring Ciudad Acuna. For several days, more than 10,000, mostly Haitians, had camped at the border in hopes of entering the United States. The Biden administration is now bringing people back to Haiti. And on the Mexican side, the authorities are transporting people by bus to towns further south of Mexico.
Journalists struggled to enter the migrant camp, but we found two reporters who were on the ground in the area. The first is John Holman with Al Jazeera, based in Mexico …
JOHN HOLMAN: Thank you. Good to be with you.
CORNISH: … and Jacqueline Charles with the Miami Herald.
JACQUELINE CHARLES: Thank you.
CORNISH: Now I know you’ve both covered this up close. John, I’ll start with you. You captured footage of border patrol agents. They were on horseback. They were trying to block Haitian migrants. And they used lassos or whips. It has become something that the Department of Homeland Security basically says it will investigate. What is the context behind these images?
HOLMAN: Yeah. And I just want to say also that there has been a lot of talk about whips and lassos. What we actually saw was that they were using long reins on their horses and pointing them towards people. So I personally did not see any whip.
So these are very tense scenes over there on the river. It was then that the men were trying to leave with food and water for their families. After that happened, that kind of flash point, that tension, then the border patrol officers – there were a lot of photographers and a lot of cameras there, and maybe they suddenly got it. realized – let people pass. And we didn’t – we haven’t seen any flash point of this nature at that point since then.
CORNISH: Jacqueline, what do we know about the fact that so many Haitians ended up arriving at the border so quickly? I mean, did they basically walk through Mexico undetected?
CHARLES: Honestly, I don’t think it was quick. First of all, we must remember that many of these people, if not the majority, are people who were in other Latin American countries. They lived in Chile, they lived in Brazil, where the situation changed. They were struggling to make a living.
And what they told me when I spoke to them was that a lot of them came to Mexico with the hope of being able to live in Mexico. But they struggled to get work permits, find work and even find accommodation. And so it’s a community that, you know, works by word of mouth. So people started to say, hey, Ciudad Acuna is open. This port is open.
CORNISH: John, it has been reported that Mexican authorities are taking people away from the border by bus. So what does this mean for the community of people who have gathered here?
HOLMAN: Yeah. What is official is that the governor of Coahuila said that a flight actually left with people returning to Tapachula. It’s in southern Mexico, right on the border with Guatemala. And he basically says, if you want to be in our country, you have to process your papers there. And he also said he was in talks with the US authorities. So obviously there’s coordination going on here between Mexico and the United States. And this is something that has been happening for quite some time. Mexico stopped at Tapachula, on this southern border, people come out and pass. My colleague was actually there last week and he said there were a lot – thousands of people, a lot of them from Haiti too, they’re in Tapachula right now. And the Mexican authorities have sort of circled this town in the south to try and stop them from going any higher.
CHARLES: Can I just say that Tapachula was brought up – everyone I spoke to, every migrant, they raised the issue of Tapachula and that – the difficulties they face in Tapachula, which led them to Ciudad Acuna. This is how all these Haitians ended up there, because of what is happening in Tapachula in addition to the difficulties of obtaining legal documents in Mexico.
CORNISH: So Jacqueline, in regards to the Biden administration’s response here, trying to send some sort of message not to cross the border, what’s going on?
CHARLES: At the moment, it doesn’t necessarily go through. People always treat it like rumors, that they hear that the United States is expelling people. I think as the days go by, that message will start to really kick in. What I found in Mexico was that people had heard it and therefore wondered whether or not they should take the risk.
But as videos start to circulate from Haiti and people start to hear interviews with returning migrants, it may be starting to happen in Mexico. But we know there are still people – migrants – trying to get through.
CORNISH: Among the Haitians who were repatriated by plane, do they come back with the message? How did this comeback go? Because I don’t know how a country like Haiti – which is going through, you know, political turmoil, natural disaster, the consequences of that – can, for example, absorb those who are returned.
CHARLES: The returnees are angry. On the one hand, they insist that the border was open. They don’t understand, you know, why they were detained. They complain about the conditions of detention. They accuse the Haitian government of having, in quotation marks, “sign deportation papers”.
For me, there is a lack of understanding that they entered the United States illegally, irregularly. They really feel like what they have done has been sanctioned. So there you see the gap in terms of what the Biden administration is trying to do.
At the same time, we see what Secretary Mayorkas is saying in terms of disinformation. A number of people said they ended up there because people said, hey, if I had a kid in Chile I can get TPS in the United States. Or someone say, Blinken said come on. It is not clear where people get this information, but they were guided by this idea that they would be welcome in the United States.
CORNISH: It’s Jacqueline Charles from the Miami Herald. We also heard from Al Jazeera’s John Holman. Thank you both for sharing your story.
HOLMAN: Well done a lot (ph).
CHARLES: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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