WASHINGTON — As more than 10,000 mainly Haitian migrants shelter under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, as part of a new surge of migration to that stretch of the U.S. border, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is planning to ramp up deportation flights to Haiti over the next week, according to internal documents obtained by NBC News.
Next week, ICE plans to fly eight deportation flights to Haiti and will then increase that number to 10 per week, according to one of the documents. A few deportation flights just restarted in the past few days in response to the surge of Haitians.
The flights had previously been paused by the Biden administration in response to the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti on Aug. 14. A single deportation flight can hold around 135 migrants, Department of Homeland Security officials said.
In addition to deportation flights, ICE will also begin “lateral flights,” in which Haitian migrants will be flown to other sectors of the U.S. border for processing, in order to alleviate overcrowding in Del Rio, according to another document.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement Friday that its field operations office at the Del Rio Port of Entry will temporarily close and re-route traffic from Del Rio to Eagle Pass to "more effectively manage resources and ensure uninterrupted flow of trade and travel."
"This temporary closure and shift is necessary in order for CBP to respond to urgent safety and security needs presented by an influx of migrants into Del Rio and is effective immediately," the agency added. "It will advance and protect national interests and help ensure the safety of the traveling public, commercial traffic, and CBP employees and facilities."
Most of the Haitians arriving are not coming directly from the island nation, two Homeland Security officials said, but have been living in South America for several years. As one of the officials explained, they cannot be deported back to South American countries so they will instead be sent to Haiti, though most would be landing in a country they have not lived in for years, one that has been devastated by political crisis and natural disasters.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized the Biden administration for its decision to stop Haitian deportation flights, saying it was drawing more people to Del Rio.
“If you’re from Haiti, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have said we have open borders, come to Del Rio and they will let you in,” Cruz told Fox News on Thursday.
The Haitian Bridge Alliance, an advocacy organization, has said the Biden administration should not be deporting Haitians “without offering them legal protection and the opportunity to apply for asylum.”
Spokespersons for ICE and Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment.