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National

What The Border At Del Rio, Texas, Is Like Now That The Migrant Camp Is Gone

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The mayor of Del Rio, Texas, Bruno Lozano, expressed relief that thousands of migrants who were in his border city are no longer there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRUNO LOZANO: As of right now, there were zero persons under the bridge. It appears that they have all been transported to other locations, which is phenomenal news.

FADEL: Federal officials say they hope to reopen the busy international border crossing between Del Rio and Mexico that's been closed for a week. Now, while the border seems to be getting back to normal, NPR's Carrie Kahn says the big question is, how long will it stay that way? She's been reporting on both sides of the border today and joins us now from Del Rio, Texas.

Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Carrie, at the height of this, there were some 15,000 people, mostly Haitians, gathered in Del Rio. What do you know about where they are now?

KAHN: The Department of Homeland Security says that they've flown 17 deportation flights back to Haiti and that they have expelled very quickly about 2,000 people. There are thousands others. And authorities here are not giving us exact numbers, but there are thousands who have been released into the U.S., many with an order to report to an immigration office where they settle. Most of the releases appear to be of families with small children. Then there are a thousand others that were sent to immigration stations around the country, and they may still be deported. So there's a mix of a lot of situations. But what is just really clear is that the mandate was, get these thousands of people living in squalid conditions under that international bridge out, and get them out fast.

FADEL: Now, you spoke with the sheriff of Val Verde County, home to Del Rio. What's his view of the situation now?

KAHN: Well, Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez, when I saw him, looked pretty exhausted. He said his small sheriff force, himself, the county residents have never seen an influx of people like this before. And they have been tense and worried since the migrants arrived here. Here's what he said.

JOE FRANK MARTINEZ: I think the people are coming off that edge. You know, they know that they're not here any longer in our community. So I think that they can start to relax, let down their fears a little bit, get a little bit back to normal.

FADEL: Now, today President Biden addressed those terrible images we saw from earlier in the week of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback corralling people. The president said that the agents will, quote, "pay" and that it was an "embarrassment," end quote. How are people on the border where you are responding to that incident?

KAHN: Well, I can tell you about what Haitians are saying, and they're very concerned about their treatment in the U.S. I was on the Mexican side of the border, where dozens of Haitians are camped. They didn't want to go to the U.S. They were just fearful of being deported. And I met this man. His name is Junior Robert Charlot, and he's a Haitian living in New York, a National Guardsman. And he came to the border, and he said he came down to help. Here he is.

JUNIOR ROBERT CHARLOT: They feel, like, very lonely. They feel like nobody care about them.

KAHN: He says the images of horses chasing Black people reminded everyone of slavery days. He says Haitians are being locked out of the U.S. while other groups are getting let in, and they're being treated unfairly. And actually, the Associated Press just released an analysis of Haitian asylum claims, and they found that in the last four years, less than 5% of asylum petitions submitted by Haitians were granted. That's the lowest rate for any nationality.

FADEL: Wow. Now that this latest wave of migration seems to be over, at least for now, what are the lessons here?

KAHN: Well, let me just tell you the things that stuck out for me, Leila. You know, we keep asking, why are so many people coming now? And I think we forget that this pandemic has been worldwide, and there is a great pent-up, you know, economic suffering and frustration. People weren't on the move during most of the pandemic. And I think we're going to see more movement now. And for those who returned to Mexico and the thousands more that are coming up through South America that we know are coming are having to decide, you know, where to stay, where to go. So for Haitians, this episode is far from over.

FADEL: NPR's Carrie Kahn, thank you.

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