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Border At Del Rio To Reopen After Migrant Encampment Cleared

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

On the border between Texas and Mexico, an encampment housing 15,000 mainly Haitian migrants has been cleared after an outcry erupted over how they were being treated by Border Patrol agents. But what happened is raising many questions about the Biden administration's immigration policies and how the U.S. should deal with the increasing influx of migrants from many different parts of the world at the southern border. In a moment, we'll look at how the situation is being discussed on the right.

But first, NPR's Carrie Kahn has been on both sides of the border this week looking at the aftermath of this crisis, and she joins us now from San Antonio, Texas. Hello, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this camp underneath the bridge on the U.S. side is gone, and now people aren't sleeping there. Tell us where they went.

KAHN: The Department of Homeland Security is giving a lot of estimated numbers. The biggest one - more than 12,000 people were released into the country. They get a paper to report to a local immigration office wherever they settle. Many, too, were sent to processing centers around the U.S., and so it will still be determined if they can be released to have their claims to stay in the U.S. evaluated, or will they be deported? And finally, the U.S. did deport about 2,000 Haitians immediately on flights back to Port-Au-Prince.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have been in Del Rio, Texas. What are people there saying about this past week?

KAHN: Yeah. I sat down with Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez in his office in Del Rio. Lulu, he just looked exhausted. He was reflecting on this whirlwind week and says the past year has been crazy for him.

JOE FRANK MARTINEZ: The winter storm, the pandemic, we've dealt with this immigrant crisis, I dealt with a jail break, all in a short period of time.

KAHN: He just talked a lot about how his city rallied around first responders. There has been a lot of criticism, especially over the Border Patrol images that went viral. The video of the Border Patrol agents mounted on horses, using aggressive tactics to hold back Haitians trying to cross the river. And so he talked a lot about how he was happy how the city rallied around them. Haitians across the border in Mexico were camped out in a park along that side of the border, and they were very upset about their treatment by the U.S. I spoke to a volunteer who came from New York. He's Haitian. He came to help the migrants. And he said those images just reminded him of days of slavery.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do the people in the town of Ciudad Acuna across the river from Del Rio, Texas, say about this influx? The international bridge, I understand, reopened to passenger traffic yesterday after being closed for more than a week. I mean, that closure must have been really tough for families and businesses which really rely on that relationship, that cross-border relationship.

KAHN: Definitely. It's been a blow. You can see how affected the downtown has been. Just walking around there, there weren't many visitors. I talked to Eduardo Hernandez, a car mechanic. He says he lost about 50% of his business while the bridge was shut down. He depends on Texas drivers who go to him for cheaper car repairs.

EDUARDO HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He said ever since the migrants came here, the situation has been strange. No work. He couldn't get into Del Rio. That normal 15-minute car ride into the U.S. turned into a 2.5-hour hour trip through the next closest crossing. A customs broker told me that manufacturing plants on the Mexican side couldn't get their finished products across the border. But authorities do say the cargo crossing will open tomorrow.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So a lot of fallout, economic and otherwise. Are there still people on the Mexican side waiting to get across? I mean, what are the Haitians saying that remained in Mexico? Are they going to stay there?

KAHN: Lulu, there are thousands of Haitians still in Mexico and thousands more making their way up from South America. Mexico has said Haitians can stay in Mexico, but they have to register and apply for refugee status or asylum there. But it's such a painful, hard journey for those who made the trip all the way north to the border. I spoke with a woman - 24-year-old Judith Pierre from Haiti. She left behind her 3-year-old son there. And she lived in Brazil for a few years. She decided to come to the U.S. after relatives here urged her to do so, and she was in that Texas encampment for a few days. But when she heard people were being deported, she swam back into Mexico.

JUDITH PIERRE: (Non-English language spoken)

KAHN: She said, I just had no idea it would be this hard. She just broke down crying. She said, if I'd known, I wouldn't have come.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn, reporting from San Antonio. Thank you so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.