Even as more than 1,000 Haitian migrants were deported between Sunday and Tuesday, thousands of others are being allowed into the United States, sometimes to request asylum — and are being released with instructions to report to immigration officials at a future date.
Faced with an unusually high number of Haitians who began crossing the border into Del Rio, Texas, late last week, the Biden administration responded with high-profile repatriation flights, which officials hope will deter others from making the trip here. There are five flights planned for Wednesday, according to an official familiar with the plans, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and thus spoke on condition of anonymity.
The sudden appearance of thousands of Haitian migrants overwhelmed Border Patrol agents in Del Rio last week. At one point, some 15,000 crammed under and around a bridge in squalid conditions while they waited to be briefly interviewed by border officials. To relieve the overcrowding, the administration has flown many of the migrants to less crowded spots on the southern border; most are being released from Border Patrol custody with a “Notice to Appear” order, which formally enters them into the immigration court system for a deportation hearing — often years away.
The response to the latest sharp increase in migrants crossing the border illegally has appeared chaotic and raised questions about the administration’s immigration enforcement policies.
The Homeland Security Department is investigating possible mistreatment of some migrants, an inquiry the secretary told lawmakers on Wednesday would be done “in days, not weeks.”
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with the secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, on Tuesday. Ms. Harris’s spokeswoman, Symone Sanders, said the vice president told Mr. Mayorkas about “the need of all C.B.P. agents to treat people with dignity, humanely and consistent with our laws and our values,” referring to Customs and Border Protection.
And a new security concern emerged on Tuesday when some Haitian migrants on a deportation flight “caused two separate disruptions on the tarmac” when they deplaned in Port-au-Prince, said Marsha Espinosa, spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department. She said three Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and an unspecified number of members of the flight crew suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
The Biden administration is using an emergency rule that the Trump administration put in place at the beginning of the pandemic to deport the migrants, who are being flown back to Haiti. The administration has sought to continue the rule — issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which critics say is less about preventing the spread of Covid-19 and more about keeping migrants out of the country. For a range of reasons, the rule is not always consistently enforced across the border, which immigration advocates have said is leading to confusion among migrants about trying to enter the United States.
Eduardo Maia Silva, a Homeland Security spokesman, said the migrants who are not deported under the public health rule and do not have a legal reason to stay, “are placed in expedited or full removal proceedings.”
He said, “Individuals who are not immediately repatriated are either placed in ‘Alternatives to Detention,’ detained in an ICE facility, or released with a legal document,” referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Neither the Homeland Security Department nor Customs and Border Protection answered a question on Wednesday about how many of the migrants arriving in Del Rio are being allowed into the country and how many are being deported.
One woman, Joselyne Simeus, a native Haitian who had been living in Chile for seven years, was among the migrants who waded across the Rio Grande last week and crossed illegally into the country with her 5-year-old son, joining the thousands waiting under the bridge. She claimed asylum and called herself “lucky,” because she and her son were not forced to immediately return to Haiti but instead planned to travel to Florida to stay with family.
The Haitian government has asked the United States for a deportation moratorium out of concerns that the country, battered from natural disasters and political upheaval, cannot handle the number of Haitians being repatriated.
Edgar Sandoval contributed reporting from Del Rio, Texas.
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