South Texas nonprofits had been receiving Haitian migrants for weeks but volunteers don’t expect more

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Volunteers faced language and cultural barriers helping Haitians

Migrants, mostly Haitians, are seen on Sept. 17, 2021, living under the Del Rio International Bridge. Federal officials said on Friday all migrants have been removed from under the bridge. Some are being sent to other border cities, like El Paso, for processing. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Local volunteers in the Rio Grande Valley noticed an unusual uptick in the number of Haitian migrants released by federal officials at the beginning of this month, but they say they’re no longer receiving any more.

However, they told Border Report they are preparing in case that changes.

Andrea Rudnik, who is in charge of volunteers for the nonprofit organization Team Brownsville, told Border Report on Friday that her group does not have a headcount of the number of Haitians they have assisted at the bus station in Brownsville. But she said at the start of September, “there was one week where all we seemed to see were Haitians.”

They added to the thousands of mostly Central American migrants who have been released by federal officials in South Texas, which has had the highest numbers of migrant encounters anywhere on the Southwest border since February.

The number of migrants legally released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents varies from 50 to 300 per day in Brownsville, and Rudnik said there were some days where nearly all were from Haiti. Most were released to the bus station from Port Isabel Service Processing Center near the town of Los Fresnos, Texas, she said.

Since 2019, volunteers with Team Brownsville have helped migrants who cross into South Texas. Volunteers provide backpacks, clothes, snacks and travel assistance at the bus station.

ABOVE: Volunteers with Team Brownsville help migrants who were released on Feb. 27, 2021, at the Brownsville bus station. BELOW: Backpacks are among supplies given out by Team Brownsville at the bus station. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report file Photo)

But the vast majority have been from Spanish-speakers from Central America, as well as Mexicans. The increase in Haitians, who speak Creole and other dialects, posed new challenges for the RGV volunteers, she said.

“There were language barriers and cultural barriers,” Rudnik said via phone on Friday. “A lot ended up sleeping outside on the streets.”

The Ozanam Center, a nonprofit facility for migrants and homeless people, has overnight space to help hundreds, but Rudnik said it was difficult to communicate that and they are working on finding ways to get translators and have signs made to better inform the migrants.

“When you don’t speak the language, it’s a huge barrier,” Rudnik said.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told Border Report on Friday that federal officials are releasing migrants who qualify with Notice to Appear or other legal documents and some are being sent to other border towns.

“DHS continues to expel migrants under CDC’s Title 42 authority. Those who cannot be expelled under Title 42 and do not have a legal basis to remain are placed in expedited or full removal proceedings. Individuals who are not immediately repatriated are either placed in Alternatives to Detention, detained in an ICE facility, or released with a legal document (either a Notice to Appear in court or a notice to report to an ICE office for further immigration processing). The document an individual receives is dependent on facility space and resources available to process,” a DHS spokesman said.

Melissa Gutierrez, of the Harlingen-based nonprofit Loaves & Fishes, said during a Friday conference call with other migrant advocate groups that they were told that no more Haitian migrants will be released into the RGV, at least for now.

“They’re not going to release more to the RGV until further notice,” Gutierrez said on Friday afternoon.

Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs Catholic Charities of the RGV and the region’s largest migrant shelter in McAllen, told Border Report they are not currently receiving Haitian migrants.

A group of Haitian migrants board a charter bus on Sept. 20, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas, bound for San Antonio. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photo)

Earlier this week, the White House extended Trump-era border travel restrictions, known as Title 42, through at least Oct. 21. The restrictions are designed to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Haitian migrants who have been unable to cross into South Texas also have made their way to a migrant encampment in the dangerous northern Mexican town of Reynosa, in the state of Tamaulipas, across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas. A camp has also started forming across the border from Del Rio, Texas, in Acuña, Coahuila.

At least 50 Haitians are staying at a migrant shelter in Reynosa, called Senda de Vida. But many more are living in the downtown plaza, along with an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 migrants who are unable to cross the border to claim asylum due to Title 42 restrictions, Cindy Candia, a volunteer with the organization Angry Tias and Abuelas told Border Report on Friday.

Candia said she was going to Reynosa on Saturday to deliver hygiene kits and blankets to the migrants, including Haitians, living at the encampment.

“It’s a pretty wild situation,” Candia said.

Migrants are seen living under the Del Rio International Bridge on Sept. 17, 2021. There were an estimated 13,000 migrants under the bridge that day and the encampment swelled to 16,000 on Saturday, most from Haiti. Federal officials on Friday announced everyone has been removed from under the bridge. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

On Friday afternoon, federal officials announced that all of the 15,000 migrants have been removed from under the Del Rio International Bridge. Most are Haitian, but there also were migrants from Venezuela and Cuba who were part of that bridge encampment.

Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas traveled to Del Rio on Monday and said he had sent 600 federal agents and was working with the U.S. Coast Guard to transport and process the migrants at other border towns and areas since Del Rio had no more processing space at its regional facility.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz speak to media on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, at the Del Rio International Bridge, which has been closed due to migrants living underneath it. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photo)

“Most are swiftly taken into custody, processed and removed consistent with our laws and policies,” Mayorkas said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent 1,000 state troopers and the National Guard and has asked the White House to declare the entire state an emergency due to the surge in migrants and state resources expended.

The Biden administration has been criticized for its handling of the migrants — thousands of whom lived for days and weeks under the bridge without potable water, toilets or food provisions, until just a week ago when congressional representatives visited the site and media attention shed a spotlight on the situation.

And although the majority are being repatriated back to Haiti, Mayorkas said, there are hundreds being released into the United States. And volunteers, like Rudnik, said they are increasing their supplies and preparing in case they get another onslaught.

“We’re having meetings and getting plans into motion. Doing whatever we can,” Rudnik said. “We don’t want to be caught not ready.”

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