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Thousands Of Migrants Are Weighing Whether To Crossing Into The U.S.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We're going to begin on the border in Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of migrants, mostly Haitian, are still camped out with the hopes of entering the United States. The number of people gathered there has dropped as the Biden administration continues to expel planeloads of Haitians and force them to return to Haiti. Some head back south to Mexico, and others have been allowed into the U.S., like Robinson Canone. He left Haiti two years ago. We spoke to him while he was waiting to be taken to a center for migrant families in San Antonio.

ROBINSON CANONE: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: Canone says he went from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and then to Chile and then to Del Rio. And it was a long journey through 10 countries. Meanwhile, some of the scenes at the border with U.S. authorities raise questions about the harsh treatments Haitian migrants face.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The fallout for how the Biden administration is handling the situation continues. Earlier today, the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, quit in protest, calling the deportation of thousands of Haitians inhumane. In Texas, state troopers formed a miles-long, quote, "steel wall," lining up patrol cars along the border to discourage more people from crossing to Del Rio. Here was the warning from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas when he traveled there earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family's lives.

CORNISH: But the administration has sent mixed messages because some people have been allowed into the U.S., as we noted, so it's a confusing situation.

FADEL: NPR's Carrie Kahn has been reporting on both sides of the border in Del Rio, Texas, and Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. She joins us from there now. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So Carrie, there are migrants gathered on the Mexican side of the border, too, right? What's the scene there? What are you seeing?

KAHN: Right. They're camping out. They're in provisional tents. They're under tarps. They're in shady areas in this park that butts up against the southern side of the Rio Grande. It's hard to say how many are there 'cause they're all spread out wherever you can find shade. It's very hot here, but easily there are dozens of people at this park. There's also a heavy presence of Mexican state and federal police. You mentioned that there was a line of state troopers on the Texas side. A similar line is on the Mexican side. Police are dressed in army fatigues. They're in pickup trucks lined right at the riverbank. It's really an impressive show of force, but clearly it's not any sort of enforcement or sealing of the border on this side. Several migration officials and international groups have arrived to the park, and they are trying to urge the Haitians to return to southern Mexico. They want them to stay them down there, especially if they plan to ask to remain in Mexico.

FADEL: Now, you've been speaking with people there, some who are from Haiti who went to the U.S. and then were turned back. What are they saying?

KAHN: Right. We spoke quite a long time in the shade of a large tree in this really dusty park with 24-year-old Anderson Cherry. And he arrived here in the border town last weekend, and he forged the Rio Grande into Del Rio, Texas. And like the thousands there, he was hoping, waiting for a chance to get into the U.S. Here's what he had to say.

ANDERSON CHERRY: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: He says he spent four days under the bridge in Del Rio, Texas. That - we've all seen those pictures. But when he heard the U.S. was deporting people back to Haiti, he just booked it back to the Mexican side to this park. He went back across the river, and he's been here since. He said there is nothing for him in Haiti. One Haitian that we spoke to made an interesting comment. He said, how can the U.S. send us all back to our country? He said the government can't even keep the president safe. He's referring to the recent assassination of the Haitian president. He said, how can we be safe there?

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, it's worth pointing out that there's been this recent instability and turmoil. But many come from Haiti - they've been in other countries for a couple months, for years. Tell us about some of the journeys they've made as you've heard them talking in the last couple days.

KAHN: Most people I've spoken with have been living in South America for years. They left Haiti for different reasons, mostly economic and security. Many had been living in Chile and Brazil and a month ago decided to leave there and take that treacherous journey north through all those countries. The 24-year-old, Anderson Cherry, that we were talking with, he said he was able - he had been able to eke out a living in Brazil since 2019. He was even able to send $20 a month back to his mother and father in Haiti. But the pandemic just crippled the economy, and he was getting desperate and headed to Mexico. And he actually arrived in the southern Mexican border city of Tapachula about two months ago. He was detained for 16 days. And once out, he had no work, and the Mexicans were not giving him the paperwork he needed to be able to move out of the border city. And that's a complaint we've heard a lot from many Haitians. They just felt trapped down there in southern Mexico.

FADEL: So if people were suffering really for months and years trying to eke out a living, why now? Why is this huge gathering happening now? Do authorities in the U.S. or Mexico know that?

KAHN: Well, I can tell you what we've heard is that over Mexico's independence holiday, which was the 15 and 16 of September, migrants in Tapachula, all the - there are thousands already there - they were given the green light to board buses and head north. Who exactly gave that OK, we don't know. But it's clear that hundreds traveled on buses for the 1,500-mile trip north to here, impeded throughout Mexico. And they did it very quickly. And I asked a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official today to comment about the large-scale smuggling operation in Mexico that could have brought so many Haitians to the border here so quickly. The official said the U.S. is investigating, but officials couldn't comment any further.

FADEL: Are the people that you've spoken to in the park on the Mexican side planning to watch what happens with those who cross to the U.S. and then decide what they'll do themselves?

KAHN: I don't - it's unclear. They don't have a lot of options. They feel like they can't go across back to the U.S. They can't stay in this park for long. You know, there were these officials and government and organizations trying to convince them to go back to southern Mexico. I spoke with a Mexican immigration official who was not authorized to speak publicly, but did say the Haitians have to return to southern Mexico if they want to stay in the country and receive any sort of permission to be in Mexico legally.

FADEL: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. Thank you so much for your reporting.

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