US holding 10,000 migrants in squalid conditions under Texas bridge

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Migrants crowd under the Del Rio International Bridge as they wait to turn themselves in to the US Border Patrol and seek asylum. (Photo by New York Times)

The United States is holding thousands of people in squalid conditions under a bridge in Texas, following a surge of undocumented migrants crossing the southern border that has overwhelmed the authorities.

The mayor of the border community of Del Rio declared a state of emergency on Friday after more than 10,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, poured into the small border city of only 35,000 residents.

Lozano said the migrants were being kept in a temporary staging area controlled by the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) under the Del Rio International Bridge, as overwhelmed officers scrambled to process them.

The temporary camp has rapidly grown in size in recent days, from just a few hundred people earlier in the week. City officials said they expected thousands more to cross the shallow Rio Grande River that connects Mexico to the US border town in the coming days.

Many of the migrants come from Haiti, where people have faced a devastating earthquake and flash floods since July when the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse unleashed a fresh wave of political turmoil and violence. 

"The border patrol right now is so overwhelmed with the influx of migrants in the Del Rio sector," Lozano said.

Migrants seeking asylum in the US walk in the Rio Grande river near the International Bridge as they wait to be processed, in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, on September 16, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The White House has so far remained silent on the new surge of migrants along the southern border, which represents yet another test of President Joe Biden’s widely-criticized immigration policy.

The scene of dense crowds, sleeping on dirt in scorching heat and with little access to food and clean water, drew condemnations from local officials.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the state police and the National Guard to assist border agents in Del Rio, criticizing what he deemed as an inadequate federal response to the crisis.

“The Biden administration is in complete disarray and is handling the border crisis as badly as the evacuation from Afghanistan,” he said.

In recent months, the Southwest border has been inundated with a surge of unauthorized crossings not seen in more than two decades. Nearly 200,000 immigrants were arrested at the southwest border in August alone, according to government data.

Republicans have blamed Biden’s mishandling of the border for the growing stream of migrants and asylum seekers. 

An official, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the administration was planning a widescale expulsion of Haitian migrants from Del Rio by putting them on flights back to their home country starting Sunday.

Details are yet to be worked out but the forced expulsion will likely involve five to eight flights a day, said the official, who has direct knowledge of the plans but was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Authorities are also reportedly planning to fly some of the migrants to other parts of the border that are not experiencing a surge like Del Rio’s.

Biden had repeatedly promised on the campaign trail to overturn the harshest aspects of Donald Trump’s anti-immigration agenda.

Faced with the worsening crisis in recent weeks, however, the Biden administration moved to resume a sweeping Trump-era expulsion policy, under which most migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border are quickly turned back.

Biden had condemned the policy as “inhumane” and suspended it on his first day in office.

On Thursday, a judge in Texas ordered that the administration stop expelling migrant families under the so-called public health rule that was enforced at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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