In early September 2021, over 15,000 Haitian migrants crossed the Rio Grande River into Texas, living in squalid conditions under the Del Rio International Bridge and hoping for a better life in the United States.
The half-mile stretch of land between the United States border fence and the Rio Grande River left migrants stranded in a “no man’s land,” as both the Mexican and the United States government scrambled to find a solution.
Migrants crossed between Ciudad Acuña, Mexico and Del Rio, a Texas border town with a population of 35,000 located about 150 miles west of San Antonio.
Once the migrants reached Del Rio, they camped underneath the Del Rio International Bridge, living in squalid conditions, though not worse than most had experienced on their journey.
According to the New York Times, migrants had access to 22 portable toilets, no running water, and slept on packed dirt, instead of cots. They had little food, except from the food they bought in Mexico.
The influx of Haitian migrants took nobody by surprise. Over the course of the past year, Haiti has faced the Covid-19 pandemic, an assassination of its president, an earthquake, and a tropical storm.
Additionally, following the horrific 2010 Haitian earthquake, Haitians fled to other Central and South American countries, such as Brazil and Chile, hoping to regain their footing and feed their families while Haiti attempted to rebuild itself.
However, today’s pandemic exacerbated the political and social issues of these Central and South American countries: their economies weakened further and thousands of migrants, most of whom from Haiti, were forced out of work.
Thus, migrants decided to make the long, dangerous journey to the United States. Many hoped for asylum in the United States, but with the immigration agencies already backlogged, most migrants were unsuccessful in this endeavor.
One big question startled both the American and Mexican governments: how did all the migrants arrive at the same time? The answer, Social media.
According to AP News, platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook told the migrants when and where to cross, what to avoid, which borders were open, the best routes, and more. Despite this connectivity, however, there was still miscommunication.
Confusion ensued “over the Biden administration’s policies after authorities recently extended protections for the more than 100,000 Haitians living in the United States,” said AP News.
This policy only extends protection for these hundred-thousand Haitians living in the United States prior to July 29, months before the September influx. These crucial details were often omitted in online posts and misinformation spread rapidly.
This influx is “the result of a well-organized effort by human smuggling organizations facilitated through social media,” said the Dallas Morning News. “Smugglers used more than 200 buses, trucks, taxis, and even a ferry to move Haitians in Mexico up to the Texas border.”
On September 2, there were about 57 migrants in Del Rio. By September 16, there were 10,500, and by September 18, there were over 15,000. The greatest surge occurred on September 16 – Mexican Independence Day.
“You can’t do that without having an organized structure,” said Tonatiuh Guillén, who served as Mexico’s immigration chief until 2019. “I don’t know whether the authorities were indifferent, just didn’t care or just looked the other way.”
Mexico did not begin to stop the flow of migrants until September 18. “Where was the shared intelligence between both countries?” said Arturo Fontes, a former FBI agent.
Mexico and the United States need to work together to approach this complex problem. While the 15,000 migrants are now cleared from the bridge, this is not the end of the issue.
“This is a well-orchestrated move and there are thousands more coming from South America as we speak,” said Val Verdi County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez.
As of September 24, all 15,000 migrants were cleared from the bridge. 8,000 returned to Mexico, fearing deportation, 5,000 are currently being processed in the United States, and 2,000 were deported back to Haiti.