DEL RIO, Texas — The Biden administration has set a deadline of Friday night to clear out the Haitian migrant camp that has caused major headaches for the White House, sources told the Washington Examiner.
Two senior officials within the Department of Homeland Security said the camp, underneath the Del Rio-Acuna International Bridge, is creating bad “optics” and drawing renewed scrutiny to the administration’s inability to curb illegal immigration. At one point, more than 15,000 people were in the camp, though the number had dwindled to less than a third of that by Thursday.
“They want those people out from under that bridge so they can’t be seen anymore,” the first official said. “It’s an optics thing. They are moving them around for process and release. They’re going to have everyone at the bridge gone in the next two days.”
As of Thursday morning, fewer than 4,000 noncitizens remained under the bridge. Roughly 3,000 to 5,000 of the 15,000 have been deported or are expected to be expelled. The remaining 10,000 to 12,000 people will be released into the country and permitted to travel nationwide, according to two top officials at different DHS agencies that handle border and immigration matters.
The sudden push to get everyone out of the squalid living conditions is only happening now following orders from the West Wing. Federal authorities learned this week of a Black Lives Matter protest scheduled to take place near the bridge this weekend and moved quickly to avoid a more chaotic scene.
“They don’t want them all riled up [at the time of the protest],” the official said, adding that most are being sent to San Antonio, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Del Rio.
A second person who also shared operational information on the condition of anonymity wrote in an email Thursday that the “White House wants all cleared out by Friday evening.”
“Most will be at other holding facilities in other sectors. They are basically just moving the bridge to other areas. It’s all about optics,” the second official wrote. “It’s getting hard to move them because they are getting aggressive.”
Border Patrol agents are interviewing and providing release documents to migrants at a rate of 15 minutes per person.
Most of the migrants being moved to San Antonio will be released onto the street. Releases into the community have been unfolding for months, community members told the Washington Examiner in a series of interviews this week.
All women who claim to be pregnant will be released and will not be asked to complete a pregnancy test to verify their claims, the first official said.
“Once they have their babies in the U.S., we can’t remove them because we can’t deport U.S. citizens. We can’t deport the sole parent,” the first official said.
Deportations are limited. Immigration and Customs Enforcement oversees deportation flights, and its 737 jets can hold approximately 180 detainees per flight. The Biden administration has attempted one to three flights daily, with some not taking off due to assaults from passengers against the federal officers on board.
From San Antonio and other nearby regions across the southern border, the Biden administration will release thousands of migrants. Approximately two-thirds of the people who lived under the bridge will not be removed from the country, the first official said.
Those released will not be given notices to appear, which are documents stating that they must appear in immigration court down the road, when a judge will decide an asylum claim if they have made one or decide how to respond to their illegal entry at the border.
Instead, migrants are being pushed out the door of Border Patrol stations and processing centers with notices to report, which instruct them to self-report to an ICE office in the coming weeks after they arrive at their final destination nationwide. There is no legal requirement to show up, and changes that President Joe Biden made to immigration policy earlier this year forbid ICE officers from going into the community and arresting people who are not a significant public safety threat.
The first official said the challenge for Border Patrol agents who take custody of illegal immigrants and book them into the system is that virtually none have identification documents.
In addition, those who receive letters that state they should report to ICE down the road will not be a priority for deportation if they fail to show. ICE also will not know where they went after departing the border.
Over the past week, Del Rio was inundated with Haitian migrants swarming across the Rio Grande in droves. The majority have lived and worked for years as residents of Chile, the wealthiest South American county.