(WASHINGTON) – Months before the influx of Haitian migrants to the southern border, frontline border patrol officers in Texas sounded the alarm that Del Rio was vulnerable and resources could be exceeded, the messages said e-mails reviewed by ABC News.
Despite the warnings, officials say preparations for the influx of migrants only began when big waves started to appear this week. Now, the Biden administration is scrambling to track, treat, and remove those who have gathered under an international bridge in the southern Texas city of Del Rio, which at one point swelled to more than 14,000.
In an email to Del Rio sector management dated June 1, 2021, members of the National Border Patrol Council expressed the need for additional measures to deal with migrants on the ground in case the facilities were overwhelmed. . Officers offered specific suggestions, including the use of digital tablets to allow early initiation of the process of welcoming migrants immediately after meetings with customs and border protection.
In a second email a few days later, agents at Del Rio went so far as to make sure the tablets had wireless data capabilities with the right network provider so they could be used along. the international border.
The emails were sent to the Del Rio Sector Border Patrol Directorate, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security. Management responded weeks later to the June emails with a single line in red:
“This is being explored, several other platforms are being considered which are more efficient.”
“The agency did take the tablets into account, but that never materialized in anything substantial,” said Jon Anfinsen, vice chairman of the National Border Patrol Council. “Over the months, the groups continued to increase in size and frequency, but the temporary facilities only started coming online in the last few days, after things had already gotten out of hand.”
Anfinsen said preparatory work for the influx of migrants only started last week as the border was submerged.
Asked by Republican Representative Michael McCaul about the emails on Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said his department was tracking migration in Central and South America, but the speed at which this group had grown. meeting at the border was unprecedented.
“We are seeing the flow of individuals seeking to migrate irregularly through Mexico from the Northern Triangle countries, and further south we are indeed following it,” Mayorkas said. “And nonetheless, a congressman, as I have explained before, the speed at which this has materialized is unprecedented.”
“Did you see this threat coming?” What if so, what if something have you done? McCaul pressed.
“We have never before seen such rapid migration – irregular migration – of individuals as we have observed and experienced with Haitians crossing the border in Del Rio, Texas,” Mayorkas said. “It was unprecedented speed. “
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment on the email exchange. U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment.
There were other warning signs, including reports of large groups of migrants heading to Panama in the first weeks of summer. Panama’s foreign minister was concerned about mounting pressure after the country’s migration division reported a 477% increase in border crossings between January and April, according to a June report from Bloomberg News.
Haitian migrants have left the island nation in large numbers since the massive earthquake of January 2010. Many have moved to reside in Brazil and Chile, but have faced a lack of economic stability and security in South America.
Arrests at the border hit record levels over the summer. CBP has made more than 1.5 million arrests or detentions so far this fiscal year. Immigration officials point out that a significant portion, sometimes up to a third, of these arrests concern repeat offenders and the administration has taken steps to send migrants further inside Mexico to prevent the recidivism.
Haiti has been devastated by natural disasters and political unrest with two major earthquakes in the past decade. The first in 2010 sent thousands of people to seek refuge in South America. A smaller, but still fatal, earthquake last month left more than 2,200 people dead. But this most recent earthquake came after the July 29 deadline set by the Biden administration for any Haitian to seek refuge in the United States.
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