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Thousands Of Haitian Migrants Wait Under South Texas Bridge


Thousands of migrants are under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, a new humanitarian crisis at the border that threatens to grow in coming days. Nearly 10,000 migrants, most of them Haitians, have been coming to the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks.

Arelis Hernandez, who covers the southern border for The Washington Post, joins us now from Del Rio, Texas. Arelis, tell us - what are you seeing there? What are the conditions in this improvised camp where the migrants are staying?

ARELIS HERNANDEZ: Well, it's really an incredible scene. Under the bridge are thousands of people who are sleeping on pieces of cardboard, who have bought recently blankets and mattresses from Ciudad Acuña, which is just across the border in Mexico - children, small children. There are some Porta-Johns and things like that. But for the most part, you know, these are folks who are sitting out in the sun under the bridge trying to create shelters for themselves out of the carrizo cane that's right along the river. And they're just sitting there waiting with these sort of raffle-like tickets for their number - for Border Patrol to call their number to get processed.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, most of them are Haitians - not all of them, though. Can you tell us why they're choosing this border crossing area?

HERNANDEZ: Yes. The majority are indeed Haitian, but many are also Venezuelan and Hondureños and Cubans. And this has long been sort of the preferred crossing point for migrants who can pay a little more rather than crossing in the somewhat easier but more dangerous east downriver (ph) in the Rio Grande Valley. And so most of the people who come through this particular crossing point are what Border Patrol will call extra-continental. Right? They're not from Central America.

But the vast majority of these folks are, indeed, Haitians. And they're not just Haitians that have come recently from - you know, from Haiti, taken a flight to Mexico and then came up. No, these are folks who've been migrating in some cases for years. I met a man yesterday who had been in Chile for four years before deciding to come north.

MARTÍNEZ: How have Texas authorities reacted?

HERNANDEZ: So it's a couple of mixed reactions. Locally - right? - in Del Rio and Val Verde County, officials, you know, say they've been warning that something like this could happen for a long time. And this is not a community that's really equipped to handle large numbers of people coming in at a single time. They've been managing because this is just the realities of life on the border. Texas Governor Greg Abbott tried to shut down the ports of entry. He's sending National Guard soldiers down at the request of Border Patrol to help with some of that processing. You know, he has long been aggressive in his border security plan. He initiated a plan several months ago, earlier this summer, to try and curb some of that flow by arresting migrants on private property who come across the river and charging them with criminal trespassing. Now, you know, some of that - as to the effect of that and what impact that has had on the individual decisions of migrants and whether they're coming or not is yet to be seen.

MARTÍNEZ: Now this creates a new border crisis for the Biden administration at a time when it wants to bring in thousands of Afghan refugees. I mean, how are they handling it?

HERNANDEZ: So far, it doesn't seem like much of a response. You know, DHS has said that they're mobilizing resources to get down here to Del Rio. But the reality is that, you know, on all fronts, this is a very serious challenge for the Biden administration. And it's long been a point of frustration for border communities who have felt for many, many months that they're not getting the attention that they deserve from the Biden administration, that they're not getting the resources that they deserve to try and handle this - that, you know, the vice president's encouragement not to come really wasn't going to have the impact that they might have hoped it would.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Washington Post reporter Arelis Hernandez in Del Rio, Texas. Thank you very much.

HERNANDEZ: Thank you guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.