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'They shouldn't be here': Texas border town reckons with Haitian influx

Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

DEL RIO, Texas — At the dusty Border Taxi parking lot Thursday, owner Juan Dehoyos wondered aloud when the nearby bridge to Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, would reopen.

The border bridge closed Sept. 17, after U.S. Customs and Border Protection was overwhelmed by the arrival of thousands of Haitian migrants. Each day, Dehoyos loses about $1,000.

He pointed to a half-dozen tractor-trailers in his lot.

"All those trucks are stuck here because they can't cross," said Dehoyos, 66, wearing a Del Rio Feed & Supply cap, Western belt and boots. "They cross every day, but now they can't."

This border town of about 36,000 — 85% Latino, many with ties across the border, and home to Laughlin Air Force Base and a slew of cross-border family businesses — has been divided by the influx of Haitian migrants this month that stirred national controversy. Some residents and churches donated to support the local migrant shelter. But they also posted signs at their businesses that read, "Thank you first responders!" showing support for the governor's recent surge of law enforcement and National Guard troops to secure the border. Even the Democratic mayor, Bruno "Ralphy" Lozano, backed the Republican governor, attacking President Biden on Twitter for failing to address the border crisis.

On Thursday, many in town followed news that Daniel Foote, the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, had resigned with a scathing letter criticizing the treatment of Haitians and deportations from the camp.

 

"I will not be associated with the United States' inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants," Foote said in the letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. The letter was publicly shared Thursday.

The Border Patrol also announced it would halt horse patrols after agents were photographed and videotaped threatening migrants at the camp over the weekend, a squalid makeshift site where migrants live in huts they fashioned from reeds plucked from the riverbank. The Rev. Al Sharpton visited Thursday, drawing some counter-protesters.

Homeland Security has expelled 1,949 Haitians from the Del Rio camp on 17 flights to Haiti since Sunday, according to a statement it released Thursday. An additional 3,901 Haitians have been moved from the camp to other parts of the border to be expelled or otherwise removed, the statement said, and 3,100 remained at the camp.

Lewis Owens, chief executive of the surrounding Val Verde County — who visits the camp daily — said he hopes it empties by Saturday so that the Del Río-Ciudad Acuña International Bridge can reopen by Monday.

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