DEL RIO – Seeing the thousands of mostly Haitian asylum seekers beneath the international bridge in Del Rio, Sara Ramey, executive director of the Migrant Center for Human Rights, said her initial concern was for their health and safety.
Humanitarian aid, she said, will take time to ramp up even as more Haitians are expected to add to the estimated 13,000 people who are already there.
“Obviously, these are overwhelming numbers,” Ramey said.
Lance Curtright, a local immigration attorney, said, “It’s a real test for the administration to see how they’re going to handle it.”
They said the large numbers of Haitian asylum seekers could further delay their requests for asylum, having fled a country devastated by its latest earthquake in August, a presidential assassination in July and the political turmoil that continues.
“That process gets stressed when you have such a large amount of people coming to the border like this,” Curtright said. He and Ramey said as it is, immigration courts have a tremendous backlog of cases.
“The total backlog for immigration court cases is around 1,300,000, and I believe about 600,000 of those cases are asylum cases,” Ramey said.
Then there’s Title 42 implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic requiring them to be sent back to Mexico.
However, a recent injunction gives the federal government two weeks to adjust the policy to allow families to enter the U.S. to await their court hearings.
Although Haiti’s temporary protected status has been extended due to conditions there, Ramey said it only applies to Haitians already in the U.S. prior to July 30.
Despite the legal obstacles before the Haitians in Del Rio can even enter the U.S., much less undergo the asylum process, Curtright said, “I hope they do the right thing and at least give these people a fair process that they are required to receive under United States law.”
However, he also said, “Unfortunately, immigration law cannot be divorced from politics in 2021.”