DEL RIO, Texas (AP) – Three hours after being freed from a giant migrant camp Under an international bridge, Mackenson Veillard stood outside a gas station and took stock of his sudden fortune as he and his pregnant wife waited for a Greyhound bus to take them to a cousin’s in San Antonio.
The couple camped with thousands of people for a week under the Del Rio, Texas Bridge, sleeping on concrete and making do with bread and bottled water.
“I felt so stressed,” Veillard, 25, said this week. “But now I feel better. It’s like I’m starting a new life.
Many Haitian migrants in Del Rio are freed in the United States, according to two American officials, contradicting public statements by the Biden administration that the thousands of people in the camp risked being deported immediately to Haiti.
Haitians have been released on a “very, very large scale” in recent days, an official said on Tuesday. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity, put the figure in the thousands.
Many were released with notices to appear at an immigration office within 60 days, a result that requires less processing time from border patrol officers than ordering a court appearance in the United States. immigration and indicates the speed at which the authorities act.
Releases come despite massive effort to deport Haitians on flights under an authority linked to the pandemic which denies migrants the possibility of seeking asylum. A third US official not authorized to discuss operations said there were seven daily flights to Haiti scheduled from Wednesday.
Ten flights arrived in Haiti from Sunday to Tuesday in planes designed for 135 passengers, according to Haitian officials, who did not provide a full tally but said six of those flights carried 713 migrants combined.
The camp hosted more than 14,000 people over the weekend, according to some estimates. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, on a Tuesday visit to Del Rio, said the county’s top official told him the most recent tally was around 8,600 migrants. US authorities have declined to say how many have been released in the United States in recent days.
The Department of Homeland Security has transported Haitians from Del Rio, a city of 35,000, 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 handled by the border patrol at these locations.
The criteria for deciding who is flown to Haiti and who is released to the United States is a mystery, but two officials have said single adults are a priority. If the prior treatment of asylum seekers is a guide, the administration is more likely to release those deemed vulnerable, including pregnant women, families with young children and those with medical problems.
The Biden administration exempts unaccompanied children from humanitarian eviction flights.
Wilgens Jean and his wife, Junia Michel, waited in Del Rio this week for relatives to send the $ 439 bus ticket to Springfield, Ohio, where Jean’s brother lives. Michel, who is pregnant, huddled under the little shade the parking lot had to offer due to the brutal heat. Her only request was for sunscreen, which she gently rubbed on her pregnant belly.
On the concrete in front of them were two backpacks and a black garbage bag that contained everything the couple owned. The couple left for Haiti in April and spent five days in the Del Rio camp. Jean said that because his wife is pregnant, they were released from the camp on Monday.
“I entered by crossing the river,” said Jean. “Immigration gave me a ticket.”
The system is a “black box,” said Wade McMullen, an attorney with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, who was in Del Rio. “At the moment, we have no official access to understand what processes are underway, what protections are provided to migrants.”
Reports of large-scale releases – some seen at the Del Rio bus station by Associated Press reporters – contradict statements on Monday by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who visited Del Rio to promise quick action.
“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be sent back, your trip will not be successful and you will endanger your life and that of your family,” he said at a press conference.
Homeland Security, asked to comment on releases in the United States, said on Wednesday that migrants who are not immediately deported to Haiti can be detained or released with a notice to appear in immigration court or to appear at an immigration court. immigration office, depending on available custody space.
“The Biden administration has reiterated that our borders are not open and people should not be making the dangerous journey,” the department said in a statement. “Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including deportation. “
Meanwhile, Mexico has started removing Haitian migrants from the US border by bus and plane, signaling a new level of support for the United States as the camp presented President Joe Biden with a humanitarian and increasingly political challenge.
The White House faces strong bipartisan condemnation. Republicans say the policies of the Biden administration led Haitians to believe they would be granted asylum. Democrats are expressing outrage after images went viral this week of border patrol agents on horseback using aggressive tactics against migrants.
The immigrants described a selection process at the camp where individuals receive colored tickets for four categories: single males; lone woman; pregnant women; and families with young children, McMullen said. The vast majority of immigrants he and other advocates interviewed who have been released to the United States were families with young children and pregnant women.
About 200 migrants were released Monday in Del Rio. About fifty of them, mostly Haitians and many pregnant or with young children, boarded a bus to Houston, from where they would fly to destinations across the country. The Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition Defense Group organized the charter bus and provided lunch bags containing a sandwich and cookies.
After a first stay with his family in San Antonio, Veillard finally hopes to go to New York to live with his sister. He will take any job he can find to support his growing family.
Veillard and his wife left Haiti four years ago and were living in Brazil until they began their journey to the United States in June, largely on foot.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel tomorrow, but now I feel lucky,” he said.
Spagat reported from San Diego. Associated Press editors Maria Verza in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration