Haitian migrants are put on a plane near Del Rio, Texas, for eventual expulsion to their home country. (Photo courtesy of Department of Homeland Security)

Following the arrival of thousands of Haitian migrants to the small Texas border city of Del Rio, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun transporting Haitians to El Paso as part of a mass expulsion operation.

As of Monday, 1,500 Haitian migrants had already arrived in El Paso for processing, said El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego. He said he was briefed by Gloria Chavez, U.S. Border Patrol chief of the El Paso sector, and Juan Acosta, acting field office director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Samaniego said El Paso is functioning as a “safety valve” for overwhelmed capacity to process migrants in the Del Rio area, and that there are plans to fly 500 Haitian migrants to El Paso per day over the coming days, prior to expulsion flights to Haiti.

“We’re the best at processing, nobody processes like El Paso,” said Samaniego on Tuesday, when asked why migrants are being flown to El Paso to be processed for expulsion.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas held a press conference in Del Rio Monday to discuss plans for the migrants camped near and under a bridge in Del Rio. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and has been rocked by natural disasters and political upheaval in recent months.

“Border Patrol is coordinating with ICE and the U.S. Coast Guard to move individuals from Del Rio to other processing locations, including approximately 3,500 over the last few days and 3,000 (Monday),” Mayorkas said during the press conference.

Mayorkas’ visit followed highly publicized photos of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback appearing to use their reins as whips against Haitian migrants. White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the photos “horrific,” and DHS announced later in the day that it was launching an investigation into the agents’ actions.

“(Today is) a day where the racism behind our border policies is on full display. It is gut-wrenching to see pictures of Border Patrol agents on horses with whips, it’s hard to believe it’s real,” said Linda Rivas, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy on Monday. She expressed concern that El Paso will become a staging area for deportations to Haiti, and said that she and a coalition of advocates are calling for Mayorkas’ resignation.

On Wednesday, a group of lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, called for due process of Haitian migrants at the U.S. border and a humanitarian moratorium on repatriation flights to Haiti, noting the “emergent and compounding situations in Haiti.”

The Biden administration announced in July that it would reinstate temporary protected status for Haitians, a status that allows people to live and work in the United States because of conditions in their home country that prevent them from being returned there safely. But TPS designation only applies to Haitians who were already living in the United States as of July 29, Mayorkas said during the press conference.

“We are very concerned that Haitians who are taking this irregular migration path are receiving false information that the border is open or that temporary protected status is available,” Mayorkas said, explaining that DHS is currently working to increase the capacity and frequency of removal flights to Haiti using the Centers for Disease Control Title 42 public health authority as a way to quickly expel Haitians.

Title 42 has been used since March 2020 as a way to rapidly process the removal of migrants to Mexico or their home countries without letting them apply for asylum, using the threat of COVID-19 spread as justification. The Biden administration has frequently come under fire from immigrant advocates for continuing the Trump-era practice, which they say violates the right to seek asylum in the United States through the process of rapid expulsion, which often does not involve a credible fear interview — a key component to the asylum process.

Last week a federal judge blocked the Biden administration from using Title 42 to expel migrant families, a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit, and other human rights groups. But the Biden administration has appealed the judge’s ruling, which goes into effect on Sept. 30.

“It’s maddening,” Rivas said. “Seeking asylum is legal regardless of …  how you enter the country. Now this administration has decided to defend Title 42 in court, appealing this decision that renders Title 42 illegal, and this administration continues to use it.”

Pastor Jean-Jacob Jeudy, who has been running a shelter for Haitian migrants out of a Haitian church in El Paso for several months, said that bringing Haitians to El Paso only to expel them is bad policy.

“The Biden administration should never have been bullied by (Governor) Abbott, (Senator) Cruz and (Lieutenant Governor) Dan Patrick to do anything like that, because they know it’s inhumane, they know it’s not right,” he said.

Jacob Jeudy, a Haitian-born veteran of the U.S. Army and pastor of Walk by Faith International Missionary Church, gestures toward the small nave of the church where, in the evening, chairs are pushed away and bedding is laid out to provide a place for Haitian migrants to sleep. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Jeudy has hosted 1,100 Haitians at his shelter since it opened in May, including more than 500 in just the past month. He is preparing for the possibility that he may need to host quite a few more arriving from Del Rio, though said he has not received any specific information to that effect.

“I see this as an utter failure of the Biden administration,” Rivas said. “We see the Biden administration have the capacity and resources and political will to put on a welcoming area for Afghan refugees and refuse to do the same for Haitian folks, where they are in a country where they cannot possibly be safely returned to that country.”

Cover photo: Haitian migrants are put on a plane near Del Rio, Texas, for eventual expulsion to their home country. (Photo courtesy of Department of Homeland Security)

René Kladzyk is a freelance reporter who also performs music as Ziemba. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.