A temporary migrant camp underneath an international bridge that connects Mexico to Texas has swelled over the past week from a couple hundred people to more than 10,000, overwhelming border authorities and fueling xenophobia.
The camp, located along the southwest Texas border at the entrance to the town of Del Rio, consists mostly of Haitian migrants who have fled in recent months from a country reeling from the assassination of its president and a major earthquake in August that killed more than 2,000 people.
The rapid growth of the camp at the U.S. border has prompted conservatives to turn what is a growing humanitarian crisis into political theater. It also coincided with reports from NBC that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is planning to ramp up deportation flights of Haitians.
“The dissolution of a nation in real time,” Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to former President Donald Trump, posted on Twitter in response to a video showing the crowd of people underneath the bridge.
Republican politicians have attempted to blame U.S. President Joe Biden while proposing a litany of policies that ignore the root causes of migration.
“This manmade (sic) disaster was caused by Joe Biden,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said on Twitter in a post accompanied by a video statement filmed beneath the bridge.
The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, ordered the closure of six points of entry along the state's border with Mexico. “Unlike President Biden, the State of Texas remains committed to securing our border and protecting Americans," Abbott said in a statement.
But it appears that he lacks the authority to close international borders. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Marsha Espinosa told CNN that "it would be a violation of federal law for the Texas National Guard to unilaterally do so."
The number of encounters with Haitian migrants recorded by U.S. border officials has increased in recent months as the crisis in the impoverished island nation has deepened. In August, nearly 70 percent of the 7,580 encounters with Haitian migrants along the southwest border were recorded in the sparsely populated Del Rio sector. It isn’t clear why Haitians are traveling to that area, but it likely has to do with the migrant networks connected to the country.
The journey to the U.S. for Haitian migrants often begins in South America, where they must pass through the treacherous Darien Gap region that connects Colombia to Panama, then traverse the entirety of the Central American isthmus and Mexico. The trip can take weeks, or sometimes months.
The majority of Haitian migrants who enter the U.S. head to New York or Florida. The people gathered under the bridge have not entered the U.S. illegally; rather, they appear to be waiting for a chance to apply for asylum.