‘They shouldn’t be here’: Texas border town divided by Haitian influx

DEL RIO, Texas —

At the dusty Border Taxi parking lot Thursday, owner Juan Dehoyos wondered aloud when the nearby bridge to Ciudad Acuna, 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 out half a dozen tractor-trailers in his yard.

“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 contributed to support the local migrant shelter HTML1. They also displayed signs at their businesses that said, “Thanks first responders!” to show support for the governor’s recent surge in law enforcement and National Guard troops to protect the border. Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano (Democratic mayor) backed the Republican governor and attacked President Biden via Twitter, saying that he has failed to address the crisis at the border.

“Del Rio are an American community and we have every responsibility to protect them. And we also have an obligation to protect and treat every individual, regardless of status, humanely,” Lozano said Friday as he stood in front of the border bridge, where he said the city had lost $17,000 a day in tolls, $35 million revenue, since it closed last week.

Lozano said the last migrants left the camp Friday, that it would close within days once cleanup was complete and the the Del Rio-Ciudad Acuna International Bridge was expected to reopen by Monday. On Thursday, many people in the town heard that Daniel Foote (the U.S. special representative to Haiti) had resigned. He wrote a harsh letter criticizing Haitians’ treatment and urging them to be removed from the camp.

” I will not associate with the United States’ inhumane and counterproductive decision deporting thousands of Haitian refugees, illegal immigrants, Foote wrote in a letter to Antony J. Blinken. This was made public on Thursday.

A Border Patrol agent on horseback stops a Haitian migrant.

A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback stops a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Del Rio-Ciudad Acuna International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on Sunday.

(Paul Ratje / AFP/Getty Images)

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. Rev. Al Sharpton visited Thursday and attracted some counterprotesters.

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 late Thursday.

Lewis Owens was the chief executive of the Val Verde County. He visited the camp every day and said that he hoped that the bridge would reopen Monday.

Migrants exit a Border Patrol bus.

Migrants exit a Border Patrol bus and prepare to be received by the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition after crossing the Rio Grande on Wednesday in Del Rio, Texas.

(Brandon Bell / Getty Images)

“They shouldn’t be here,” he said of the migrants, noting that local residents — some of whom held a protest earlier this week — were upset by the camp.

They don’t want them there and can’t understand why it was allowed to happen,” said he.

Dehoyos wasn’t sure what to make of the Haitian migrants. Before the bridge closed, he had ferried some north to San Antonio, charging his usual fare, $150 for up to five people. He said they seemed calm.

Taxi driver Juan Dehoyos

Taxi driver Juan Dehoyos is losing $1,000 a day due to the border bridge closure in Del Rio, Texas.

(Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

His business was already suffering during the pandemic, as many Mexicans were barred from crossing the border. On Sept. 17, Dehoyos had just picked up a Mexican client and crossed the border to take him to the bus station in Acuna when the bridge closed. Dehoyos had to drive three hours to get to the nearest border crossing. He didn’t arrive home until nine p.m Dehoyos was also a migrant. Born across the river in Mexico and trained as a mining engineer, he had to wait two years to get a U.S. visa in 1979. He became a U.S citizen ten years later. He stated that Haitian migrants should follow the same path as he.

“When Trump built the wall, they didn’t come,” Dehoyos stated as he stood on the lot where his grandson was washing taxi floor mats. “Then Biden started, and they all came.”

At the same time, the taxi driver said he understands Haitian migrants’ desperation after the earthquake and assassination of their president this summer.

“There’s a lot of need in Haiti. He said that he believed that was why they came, as they had to.

The Rev. Shon Young, City Church Del Rio, has been helping Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition coordinate donations and transport for migrants north.

” This is like a rollercoaster,” Young stated this week, as he stood in front of the center with several dozen Haitian migrants. They had just been issued notices to report to their immigration authorities.

Volunteers gave the migrants backpacks of donated food and toiletries before helping them board charter buses to Houston and San Antonio.

Demonstrators protest the arrival of the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Demonstrators protest the arrival of civil rights leader the Rev. On Thursday, Al Sharpton was seen at Del Rio International Airport in Del Rio, Texas.

(Brandon Bell / Getty Images)

“We want to get them to a major hub,” Young said. Many of the Haitian migrants had left town in search of better opportunities, with many heading for New York and Florida. Some people erupted with cheers after they boarded charter busses leaving town this week at the shelter.

Across the street from the shelter at Mario’s Tire Repair on Thursday, tire technician Orlando Aguirre (Mario’s brother) was helping several customers who worked in Acuna and had to commute two hours round-trip due to the bridge closure, including a worker in one of the border factories, or maquiladoras. Aguirre said he noticed an increase in Haitian migrants being released this week, more than 1,000 in Del Rio so far. Several charter buses were also parked outside the shelter on Thursday.

We’re American. We’re trying to be nice,” said Aguirre, 39, as he stood outside his family’s shop wearing a blue uniform and a bandanna over his face as a mask. “You get angry because we’re half Mexican and we’ve been through a lot of things and our families haven’t been helped.”

Aguirre said he knows Haitian migrants who were released were issued orders to report to immigration officials or court, but the process still seemed easier than it had been for his family and neighbors.

” Their legal status is either illegal or takes years to fix,” he stated.

He said that it was also sad. Outside the shelter, I see these people and their children. If we were going through such a thing, I don’t know if another country would help us .”

Aguirre’s street ends at Trump’s wall, which he supported. He was concerned that the Haitians would disappear once they were allowed to enter the U.S., especially after they have left the border.

” “It’s going be harder to locate them,” he stated.

Aguirre said his neighbors were scared at first by the migrant influx in recent months, but that Gov. The influx of National Guard troops and state troopers into the region by Greg Abbott was reassuring.

“They’re flooding our streets” with troopers, he said, and smiled.

This week, state troopers parked their SUVs along the Rio Grande. It was a wall that prevented new migrants from entering the camp. Late Thursday night, a convoy made its way through town with lights flashing and sirens blasting. National Guard troops were also present along the river. They stopped at the spot where Abbott had erected the Texas wall, a barbed-wire and chain-link fence. Chuck Champion resides in a mobile home near the fence. He supports the increased law enforcement.

A line of Texas Department of Safety vehicles lines the bank of the Rio Grande.

A line of Texas Department of Safety vehicles lines the bank of the Rio Grande near an encampment of migrants, many from Haiti, on Wednesday in Del Rio, Texas.

(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

“It’s been pretty crazy here since Biden allowed everybody to go on through,” Champion, 63, a retired aircraft mechanic at Laughlin, said as he fixed a security light in his yard Thursday. “You feel safer because they are here at night when your asleep, and they carry guns

But the forceful display stunned migrants advocates who traveled from Southern California to help the Haitians.

” Wismick Saint Jean from Los Angeles said that the police officers were “all around” as he stood beside a fellow Haitian American minister at the crossing being blocked by several state troopers. Their lights flashed.

Saint Jean said that, “as Haitians, we are deeply concerned about the treatment we have seen” at the camp, including “people hunted like animals with horses,” but also “seeing the flagrant violations of constitutional rights, due process, deporting them without their day in court.”

“What are we doing in Del Rio?” he said.

The pair arrived in San Diego overnight with members of the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

Liliana Serrano, the group’s co-chair, said the amount of law enforcement she saw in town was “alarming.” They all carried their passports and other documents in case they were stopped by law enforcement.

” You could feel the fear that you don’t know why the military presence is necessary — lots of guns, lots of uniforms,” she stated. It’s sad that this has become a routine at the border. This is something that no one else has to deal with. Our government shouldn’t treat our communities like a war zone. That is not public safety.”

One plus, she said: Because the Border Patrol has been so overwhelmed processing the Haitian migrants, they closed checkpoints on the local highways where drivers would normally be stopped and questioned about their status.

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