DEL RIO, Texas —
Pedro Fisime wasn’t given any answers.
Along with his 10-year-old daughter, Reyna, the Haitian migrant, who had spent the last six days in a chaotic and squalid encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande, was simply handed a numbered blue ticket by Border Patrol agents, bused into the border town of Del Rio, given a notice to report to immigration authorities and the opportunity to stay in the United States legally.
“It’s a very difficult process for all of us,” said Fisime, 24, a slim graphic designer wearing a T-shirt, shorts and green high-tops. “I had faith and made it to the U.S. I did it. You have to give a try.”
The confusion caused by thousands of Haitian migrants being held at the U.S. Border, the news that some were allowed into the U.S. by Biden’s administration only exacerbated their crisis .. Others were flown back home. Some were still under the bridge in the camp. Others, in an effort to avoid being sent home, crossed the treacherous river . Some with blue and yellow tickets, they didn’t know would allow them to legally enter the U.S.
Then, there were others like Fisime, who were taken from the camp by U.S. officials based on their color coded tickets. Blue tickets that were issued to families would allow entry. Also, pregnant women with yellow tickets would be allowed in. Single men would likely be sent home with red tickets and single women with green tickets. In Del Rio, hundreds a Haitian migrants climbed out U.S. Customs and Border Protection vans Wednesday with children, backpacks, and federal paperwork. This allowed them to leave the huge camp on the U.S. bank of the Rio Grande and stay in the country legally.
But the key to their escape was the blue and yellow numbers tickets.
U.S. officials released more than 1,000 migrants this week from the massive camp, even as they promised to expel them. Tiffany Burrow, operations director of the town’s only migrant shelter, Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, said it received more than 400 migrants on Wednesday, 388 migrants on Tuesday and 277 on Monday.
“These are very large numbers for us,” Burrow said of the center, which received 3,649 migrants last month. When migrants arrived at the camp the Border Patrol issued them color-coded, number tickets. They then called their numbers, loaded them onto buses and vans for expulsion flights and release. According to Nana Gyamfi (executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration), migrants were called for processing based on color and number. Families and pregnant women were given priority for legal entry, while single men were expelled.
A federal judge in San Diego ruled the Border Patrol’s daily cap for asylum applications unconstitutional. The practice, known as “metering,” forced migrants to return to Mexico and try to enter the U.S. at a later date.
Gyamfi stated that the Border Patrol’s ticket system in Del Rio camp was equivalent to metering. Immigrant advocacy groups are looking into whether this practice can be challenged. However, by that time, thousands of Haitians would have been returned to Haiti. Gyamfi stated that some Haitian fathers were being taken from their children and spouses during processing.
“It’s like they’re taking a page out of the Trump administration playbook,” she said. “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Some Haitians released from the camp received notices to report to immigration officials at their destinations within 60 days. Others were given notices to appear at immigration court. Some were issued ankle monitors and released. The U.S. immigration officers did not explain to migrants why they were treated differently or answer questions about their ticket system.
Burrow said the Border Patrol notified her each morning of the number of migrants expected to be released in Del Rio, and Wednesday was the most so far: more than 400.
There had been 10 flights carrying up to 135 migrants each from the camp since Sunday, with five more scheduled Wednesday, said Lewis Owens, chief executive for surrounding Val Verde County.
Owens, who visits the camp daily, said the number of migrants there had dropped to 5,381 Wednesday from a high of 16,000. He stated that only families with children under the age of 18 were allowed to leave and that they could have the camp emptied by Saturday. He stated that conditions were poor and only three dozen of the medical staff could work in their tent.
They delivered a baby yesterday morning at the camp and could not get her to their tent fast enough,” he stated.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas has stepped up expulsion flights to Haiti and insisted that those at the Del Rio camp face removal under a pandemic health rule invoked by then-President Trump and extended by President Biden.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Homeland Security stated that some Haitian migrants were being allowed to leave the U.S. but would not give details.
Border Patrol agents conducted a background check on the migrants before they were allowed to leave. They also collected fingerprints, photos and phone numbers, as well as an address in the U.S. They did not test the migrants for COVID-19, Burrow said.
Those who dropped off their bags at the shelter Wednesday were met by Burrow and an interpreter in Creole, who explained what would happen next.
“There’s a bus that takes you from here to a migrant center in Houston,” Burrow told several dozen migrants lined up outside the center.
Burrow stated that another non-profit group would welcome the migrants six hours after they arrived in Houston. To help migrants on their journey, Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition has partnered with San Antonio and Houston nonprofits.
They will provide you with food. The bus station and international airport are both within walking distance. You will not receive free tickets. However, volunteers in Houston can help you navigate,” she said to the migrants. Sometimes, buses took migrants to San Antonio and Dallas, where they then traveled to their final destinations in Florida or New York. Burrow stressed that there were limited buses out of Del Rio, a border city that’s so small — just 35,000 people — there’s not even a bus station. Three Greyhound buses stop at a gas station daily, the last one departing about 6 p.m.
“It’s very important you are first on the bus,” Burrow emphasized to the migrants, who listened intently. “You don’t want to lose your place .”
The migrant shelter does not house migrants over night. Burrow stated that those who did not board buses would likely have difficulty finding a taxi or somewhere to stay the night. Texas law enforcement and National Guard troops sent by the border to secure the border booked most hotels and rental cars in town. She said that those who had more space had raised their prices.
“There have been instances in Del Rio where families were on the streets at night,” Burrow said.
Migrants who were released Wednesday said they had not been told at the camp whether they would be freed or expelled.
Several hundred migrants have left the Del Rio camp, crossing the Rio Grande to a park in Ciudad Acuna, afraid that if they stayed, they would be expelled. Some migrants released Wednesday claimed they stayed at camp because they couldn’t speak Spanish, and they feared for their safety in Mexico. Others bought tickets from others with higher numbers in hopes of waiting to see if they could legally stay.
Claudy asked to be identified only by his first name due to safety concerns for his relatives in Haiti. He said that other migrants had offered to purchase his ticket — No. 11,202 — for $150 to $200.
Claudy, 31, had just $120 to provide for his pregnant wife and 2-year-old son. After living in Chile for many years and working as a construction worker, he left to seek legal entry to the United States. He regrets having emigrated. He felt suicidal at the thought of being sent back home to Haiti. He refused to sell his ticket.
“That’s my number, that’s my blessing,” he said.
It was. He watched as single migrants were zip-cuffed, loaded onto a bus and taken away, while his family boarded a van that took them to the shelter. Border Patrol agents fitted him an ankle monitor and instructed him to report to immigration October. 16. He said, “I was praying, God made a way,” before boarding the bus to Houston. There, he intended to contact his relatives to book tickets to Miami.
Rosamaria Bernardo, 19, a day-care worker, said she had spent 12 days at the camp with her parents and brother before she was released. She was not sure if they were released. Bernardo stated that she wanted to be reunited with her Boston family. She looked shocked as she waited in line to catch the bus Wednesday with her blue-blond hair loosely around her shoulders and her suitcase in hand.
“I came prepared to have to leave,” she said, especially after news spread of expulsion flights, so being released was “a shock.”
At 5: 30 p.m., the last bus to San Antonio pulled into the Stripes gas station, prepared to transport 44 migrants.
Ralfson, 27, a construction worker, was among the last to board with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, headed for Orlando, Fla. He stated that he did not understand why his family was allowed leave and others weren’t. He said that he didn’t understand why his family was allowed to leave.
Border Patrol agents dropping off the last group were late, and arrived with only 24 migrants. The bus driver had to leave without the last 20 migrants, who never showed.
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Del Rio and Castillo from Washington.