Images of border patrol agents on horseback charging at migrant men, women and children in Del Rio have spread across the Internet, along with what some critics call mixed messaging from the Biden administration when it comes to immigration. And it’s all happening in a small border town with very limited resources.
Edgar Sandoval, a New York Times reporter based in South Texas, says Del Rio is a transnational town, where people crossing over the international bridge daily and living their lives on both sides of the border. When Customs and Border Protection shut down the port of entry, its stranded many workers and families on either side.
Sandoval aw enforcement agencies, from the Texas Department of Public Safety to CPB agents have bombarded the city, making many civilians “feel like they’re in a movie.”
The Haitian asylum-seekers who have been processed by CBP are those with sponsors in the United States, says Sandoval. And it’s a small number compared to the estimated 14,000 who were at one point waiting under the bridge on the U.S. side seeking asylum.
Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below to learn more about What’s happening in Del Rio right now.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Is the port of entry still closed? You have been writing about how family members have been trapped on different sides of that bridge.
Edgar Sandoval: As far as we know, the road, the bridge will remain closed until further notice. The officials there are really trying to lower the number of people under the bridge. So I think when they feel that that number is manageable, I think they will reopen the border finally for some people who really need it.
I think it’s important to underscore that this is a transnational town. Part of everyday life is moving from one side of that border to the other. What sort of stories were you hearing as you were doing your reporting right there?
A lot of people travel back and forth every day. It’s like going from Manhattan to Brooklyn, for example. It’s almost part of the same city divided by a bridge and just relatives on both sides. People work on both sides or they just go shopping. A lot of people were stuck on both sides of the border when the border was shut last Friday This has never happened before.
That never happened before. So we’re talking about livelihoods at stake. We’re talking about the ability to be with family members, for example. Right?
Right. One woman I spoke with said for in her mind, it looked like a biblical proportion kind of disaster in the making because her daughter had run to Mexico for an errand, and she ended up being stuck in Mexico for a while. So she was trying to call, frantically saying, ‘I’m hear and the bridge is going to be closed. Please don’t go.’ And it was too late for her. She did end up crossing. She ended up driving to the nearest port of entry, which is in Eagle Pass, and come back through. But it’s still a complicated effort for four people there
What about the Haitian immigrants themselves? Have you been able to speak to some of them?
Yes. Very few are given the access to come into the country. Usually it’s people who have relatives who will sponsor them in the U.S. or have children. So some of them are given a date to see a judge eventually. And they are sent to a bus station, which is also a gas station in town. And the stories they tell me are just just harrowing. Like they never expected to come to America and experience such squalid conditions under a bridge. 14,000 people with very [limited] access to water, food [or a] place to go to the bathroom.
And I understand that word is getting around among many of those Haitian immigrants about these flights back to Haiti. I know several are taking off today. Is there any evidence of a mass effort to repatriate these immigrants to Haiti?
As of now, they’re about 6,00 fewer people under the bridge. And the migrants that I spoke with were really disappointed that that was happening. They were relieved that they were able to cross into the United States and have a chance to plead their case before an immigration judge. But they were sad that the people they were surviving with had to be sent back. The last thing a lot of them want is to go back to a country that is just broken for many different purposes right now.
Is there a big military or CBP presence in Del Rio?
National Guard and lots of DPS state police officers, they’re the ones who are really causing the commotion because they’re showing up in force. And that’s what has people rattled more than the migrants. It’s just the heavy police presence. It feels like they’re in a movie. And to be fair, I think we should note that the migrants pretty much were relegated under the bridge. So even though it was a big number, the town was kind of sealed off from from those big numbers under the bridge. But I think the town itself was basically just watching this, like the rest of us from our televisions and social media.