On the Texas border, the crush of migrants meets a crush of law enforcement

Huge federal, state and local law enforcement presence is in Del Rio to deal with thousands of immigrants — most from Haiti.

DEL RIO, Texas — Somewhere underneath a bridge that connects Mexico to the United States, thousands of immigrants packed together — many of them from Haiti — but you'd never know it on Sunday.

Military vehicles line a dirt road just north of a makeshift camp near the International Bridge in Del Rio.

Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers leave the camp on Sunday. On the far left of the photo, one of the many white busses used to take migrants to the airport can be seen.

To keep the estimated 14,000 immigrants under the International Bridge that connects Del Rio and the Mexican city of Acuna under control, U.S. Border Patrol held the media back more than 1,000 yards from a massive operation to process and deport the immigrants back to their home countries.

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"Our expectation is to have up to 3,000 migrants transferred from out underneath the bridge to a processing facility or a flight line within the next 24 hours," said Border Patrol Chief Raul L. Ortiz.

To counter the surge of migrants, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security countered with its own surge of border patrol agents, the National Guard and dozens of troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety. They also tamped down on media access after Fox News and others broadcast a flood of primarily Haitian immigrants crossing the Rio Grande River to get to the bridge.

The media was not allowed to inspect the camp under the bridge. Another complicating factor of the operation is Haitians speak primarily Haitian Creole or French. Just how many translators were needed is unclear.

Del Rio was full of unmarked white buses throughout Sunday, presumably moving migrants to Del Rio's airport or San Antonio. The buses had blacked-out and barred windows. Westbound Texas 90, between Uvalde and Del Rio, was a steady stream of white buses, DPS troopers, ambulances and many black SUVs.

Ortiz said Haitians and those from western Africa picked Del Rio to enter because Acuna was considered a safer location to cross.

"Certainly what happened this time is that number doubled and then tripled relatively quickly, and we had to move resources in here quickly," said Ortiz, who called Del Rio before being elevated to the Washington, D.C.-based position as chief in August.

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz addresses the media on Sunday about the border situation in Del Rio.

Ortiz said the primary reason for the expulsions comes from a COVID-19 related order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which bars people from entering the country. Haiti has a relatively low rate of COVID-19 compared to the U.S., according to the World Health Organization. However, the nature of the densely packed makeshift shelters complicates the situation.

"They will be removed, and they will be sent back to their country of origin," said Ortiz, adding that the State Department is working to ensure that those returned to Haiti are treated fairly. Ortiz said the U.S. Coast Guard is helping fly out some of the migrants.

Migrants are detained in a Border Patrol facility in Del Rio. Many are believed to be from Haiti.

Ortiz acknowledged that drug cartels and other Mexico-based criminals had an interest in driving this immigration crush.

The situation became so dire that Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano was frantically tagging President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Twitter to draw attention to the problems under the bridge. Lozano said concerns ranged from a humanitarian crisis to a security issue when the French-speaking Haitians discovered they were not getting asylum but returning to Haiti.

"If you have 10,000 people who move in mass, it will just begin to overwhelm the agents, and who knows if they would have been in the city streets causing chaos there," Lozano said. "It was a very dire and serious concern."

On Sunday, Lozano said he was satisfied with the Homeland Security response, including DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Del Rio Bruno Lozano answers questions from the media on Sunday afternoon about the flood of immigrants underneath the International Bridge.

"Right now because of the conversation with Secretary Mayorkas, I now feel that secretary office is aware of what is happening in real time," Lozano said on Sunday in front of a media throng.

The port of entry connecting the two nations was closed, with traffic diverted south to Eagle Pass. In Del Rio, the only visible signs of an incident were hundreds of vehicles coming and going through a gate in the border fence near the bridge and the whirl of helicopters orbiting.

Lozano said the economic pressure from the port being closed helped make Mexico more responsive in handling its side of the border.

But the crisis is far from over.

"We are bringing additional resources to deal with security, migrant care transportation and processing," said Ortiz said. "We are providing food, water, portable toilets, towels, emergency medical technicians are available for first aid."

At the gate, ambulance crews were in full COVID-19 protocol. Across the field leading to the makeshift camps, dozens of emergency workers could be seen, including the San Antonio Fire Department.

About a mile west of the gate to the camp, the unfinished border wall sat and about 4 miles west of the wall are the unprotected stretches of the Rio Grande River, where Mexicans were enjoying the cool water on the final day of summer. The river was low and calm.

Looking across on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande River, families enjoy the final Sunday of summer. Dozens of families could be seen along the river enjoying barbecues or swimming in the river, which was relatively shallow.

In 2021, Haiti endured months of political violence before President Jovenel Moise's July assassination. One month later, a deadly earthquake struck that killed more than 3,000. Since 2010, the small by densely populated country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, has been rocked by natural disasters that have killed more than 300,000 people.

A portion of the new border wall.

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