US officials defend expulsion of Haitians from Texas town

Migrants, many from Haiti, wade across the Rio Grande river from Del Rio, Texas, to return to Mexico, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, to avoid deportation from the U.S. (AP)
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Updated 21 September 2021

US officials defend expulsion of Haitians from Texas town

DEL RIO, Texas: More than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have been removed from an encampment at a Texas border town, US officials said Monday as they defended a strong response that included immediately expelling migrants to their impoverished Caribbean country and using horse patrols to stop them from entering the town.
Calling it a “challenging and heartbreaking situation,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a stark warning: “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life.”
Isaac Isner, 30, and his wife Mirdege, took wet clothing off their 3-year-old daughter Isadora after crossing the Rio Grande to Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, Monday afternoon. They had been in Del Rio, Texas, for seven days but decided to return to Mexico after a friend showed cellphone video of the US expelling migrants.
“They were putting people on a bus and sent them to Haiti just like that without signing anything,” Isner said.
His family has an appointment this month with Mexico’s asylum agency in the southern city of Tapachula, and they think they could be safe in Mexico.
Most migrants, however, still haven’t made up their minds.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” said a second Haitian man, who declined to give his name but said he crossed into Mexico Monday for food, leaving his wife and child in Del Rio. “The US is deporting and now Mexico won’t just sit back and do nothing. We don’t know where to go.”
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, said about 15 percent of the Haitian migrants in Mexico have accepted refuge there. So far this year, about 19,000 Haitian migrants have requested asylum in Mexico.
“Mexico does not have any problem with them being in our country as long as they respect Mexico’s laws,” he said.
Mexico was busing Haitian migrants from Ciudad Acuña Sunday evening, according to Luis Angel Urraza, president of the local chamber of commerce. Mexico’s immigration agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But a federal official told The Associated Press on Sunday that the plan was to take the migrants to Monterrey, in northern Mexico, and Tapachula, in the south, with flights to Haiti from those cities to begin in coming days.
Mayorkas and US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said they would look into agents on horseback using what appeared to be whips and their horses to push back migrants at the river between Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio, a city of about 35,000 people roughly 145 miles (230 kilometers) west of San Antonio where thousands of migrants remain camped around a bridge.
Both officials said during an afternoon news conference they saw nothing apparently wrong based on the widely seen photos and video. Mayorkas said agents use long reins, not whips, to control their horses. Ortiz, the former chief of the Del Rio sector, said it can be confusing to distinguish between migrants and smugglers as people move back and forth near the river. The chief said he would investigate to make sure there was no “unacceptable” actions by the agents.
“I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it acceptable or appropriate,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about the images at a nearly simultaneous briefing. She deemed the footage “horrific” and said the matter would be investigated.
Later Monday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement calling the footage “extremely troubling” and promising a full investigation that would “define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken.”
Mayorkas said 600 Homeland Security employees, including from the Coast Guard, have been brought to Del Rio. He said he has asked the Defense Department for help in what may be one of the swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants and refugees from the United States in decades.
He also said the US would increase the pace and capacity of flights to Haiti and other countries in the hemisphere. The number of migrants at the bridge peaked at 14,872 on Saturday, said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union that represents agents.
“When it was reported that were flights going back to Haiti, it got around almost immediately,” he said. “There has been talk that some of them are going to go back (to Mexico) but we have not seen very much movement.”
The rapid expulsions were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by former President Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows for migrants to be immediately removed from the country without an opportunity to seek asylum. President Joe Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the order but let the rest stand.
Any Haitians not expelled are subject to immigration laws, which include rights to seek asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. Families are quickly released in the US because the government cannot generally hold children.
More than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince on three flights Sunday, and Haiti said six flights were expected Tuesday. The US plans to begin seven expulsion flights daily on Wednesday, four to Port-au-Prince and three to Cap-Haitien, according to a US official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Flights will continue to depart from San Antonio but authorities may add El Paso, the official said.
The only obvious parallel for such an expulsion without an opportunity to seek asylum was in 1992 when the Coast Guard intercepted Haitian refugees at sea, said Yael Schacher, senior US advocate at Refugees International whose doctoral studies focused on the history of US asylum law.
Similarly large numbers of Mexicans have been sent home during peak years of immigration but over land and not so suddenly.
Central Americans have also crossed the border in comparable numbers without being subject to mass expulsion, although Mexico has agreed to accept them from the US under pandemic-related authority in effect since March 2020. Mexico does not accept expelled Haitians or people of other nationalities outside of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
In Mexico, local authorities of border municipalities have asked for help from state and federal authorities. Claudio Bres, the mayor in Piedras Negras, about 62 miles (100 kilometers) southeast of Ciudad Acuña, told local media that the official agreement is to turn back all the buses with migrants to prevent them from reaching the border. He said that last weekend around 70 buses passed through his town.
Haitians have been migrating to the US in large numbers from South America for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating 2010 earthquake. After jobs dried up from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, many made the dangerous trek by foot, bus and car to the US border, including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
Some of the migrants at the Del Rio camp said the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse make them afraid to return to a country that seems more unstable than when they left.
“In Haiti, there is no security,” said Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian who arrived in Texas with his wife and two daughters. “The country is in a political crisis.”
But Mayorkas defended his recent decision to grant Haitians temporary legal status due to political and civil strife in their homeland if they were in the United States on July 29, but not to those being sent back now.
“We made an assessment based on the country conditions ... that Haiti could in fact receive individuals safely,” he said.
Six flights were scheduled to Haiti on Tuesday — three to Port-au-Prince and three to the northern city of Cap-Haitien, said Jean Négot Bonheur Delva, Haiti’s migration director.
Some migrants said they were planning to leave Haiti again as soon as possible. Valeria Ternission, 29, said she and her husband want to travel with their 4-year-old son back to Chile, where she worked as a bakery’s cashier.
“I am truly worried, especially for the child,” she said. “I can’t do anything here.”


Taliban agree to new polio vaccination drive across Afghanistan — WHO

Updated 4 sec ago

Taliban agree to new polio vaccination drive across Afghanistan — WHO

  • In the past Taliban barred UN-organized teams from campaigns out of suspicion they could be spies 
  • Some 3.3 million children over the past three years have not been vaccinated

ISTANBUL: UN agencies are gearing up to vaccinate all of Afghanistan’s children under 5 against polio for the first time since 2018, after the Taliban agreed to the campaign, the World Health Organization says.
For the past three years, the Taliban barred UN-organized vaccination teams from doing door-to-door campaigns in parts of Afghanistan under their control, apparently out of suspicion they could be spies for the government or the West. Because of the ban and ongoing fighting, some 3.3 million children over the past three years have not been vaccinated.
The Taliban’s reported agreement now, after becoming the rulers of Afghanistan, appeared aimed at showing they are willing to cooperate with international agencies. The longtime militant insurgent force has been trying to win the world’s recognition of its new government and re-open the door for international aid to rescue the crumbling economy.
Taliban officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But WHO and the UN children’s agency UNICEF said in a statement they welcomed the decision by the Taliban leadership supporting the resumption of house-to-house polio vaccinations across the country.
Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. The disease can cause partial paralysis in children. Since 2010, the country has been carrying out regular inoculation campaigns in which workers go door to door, giving the vaccine to children. Most of the workers are women, since they can get better access to mothers and children.
But large sections of the country have been out of their reach in recent years. In parts of the south, particularly, the ban by the Taliban was in effect. In other areas, door-to-door campaigns were impossible because of fighting between the government and the insurgents, or because of fears of kidnappings or roadside bombs. In some places, hard-line clerics spoke out against vaccinations, calling them un-Islamic or a Western plot.
WHO said a new nationwide vaccination campaign will begin on November 8, followed by another synchronized with Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign in December.
The estimated target population is Afghanistan’s 10 million children under five, including the more than 3.3 million who could not be reached since 2018, Dr. Hamid Jafari, WHO’s director of polio eradication for the Eastern Mediterranean region, told The Associated Press.
“Restarting polio vaccination in all areas of Afghanistan now will prevent a major resurgence of polio outbreaks within the country and ensure there is no international spread,” Jafari said.
“This is an extremely important step in the right direction,” said Dapeng Luo, WHO Representative in Afghanistan. He said it was a good sign that multiple campaigns are planned. “Sustained access to all children is essential to end polio for good.”
Jafari said the Taliban government had agreed on three key aspects — security for health workers and vaccinators, mobilization of health authorities and the new leadership for the campaign, and communications through religious, tribal and community leaders and media to build trust in the campaign.
He urged families not to be suspicious of the vaccinators going house to house, saying the only intention is to protect children. “They should trust the program. They should trust the vaccine.”
On March 30, three women were gunned down in two separate attacks as they carried out door-to-door vaccinations in the eastern city of Jalalabad. It was the first time vaccination workers have been killed in a decade of door-to-door inoculations against the disease in Afghanistan.
Such attacks have been more common in Pakistan, where at least 70 vaccinators and security personnel connected to vaccination campaigns have been killed since 2011.


Grenade attack targets Taliban vehicle in Kabul

Updated 8 min 46 sec ago

Grenade attack targets Taliban vehicle in Kabul

  • Explosion happened during rush hour in the Deh Mazang district in the west of the capital
KABUL: A grenade was thrown at a Taliban vehicle in the Afghan capital on Wednesday morning, wounding two fighters and four nearby school children, government officials said.
“This morning a grenade was thrown at a mujahideen vehicle in Deh Mazang, wounding two mujahideen,” Taliban interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti said.
Another official said: “Our initial information shows four school students wounded.”
The explosion happened just before 8 a.m. (0330 GMT) during rush hour in the Deh Mazang district in the west of the capital, a witness said.
“I was on my way to work, it was 7.55am and I heard this very big explosion on the road. I managed to escape,” said Amin Amani.
“I saw a lot of smoke in the mirror of the car and I saw people running,” the 35-year-old translator said.
Images shared on social media showed plumes of smoke and dust rising into the air on the streets of the capital.

85 dead in India floods, 31 in Nepal

Updated 14 min 49 sec ago

85 dead in India floods, 31 in Nepal

  • In Uttarakhand in northern India officials said that 46 people had died in recent days with 11 missing
  • In Kerala in the south chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the death toll had hit 39 there

NEW DELHI: The death toll from floods and landslides in India rose to 85 on Wednesday, officials said, while Nepal also reported 31 fatalities and 43 missing.
In Uttarakhand in northern India officials said that 46 people had died in recent days with 11 missing. In Kerala in the south chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the death toll had hit 39 there.
In Nepal, disasters management division official Humkala Pandey said: “In the last three days, there have been 31 deaths from floods and landslides triggered by heavy post-monsoon rainfalls across the country. Forty-three people are missing.”


Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda

Updated 20 October 2021

Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda

  • It is not clear when the dialogue will begin, but the council will lead discussions with Malian militant leaders

BAMAKO: Mali’s government has asked the country’s Islamic High Council to begin a dialogue with Al-Qaeda-linked groups in a new effort to address a nearly decade-long insecurity crisis.

It is not clear when the dialogue will begin, but the council will lead discussions with Malian militant leaders Iyad Ag Ghaly and Amadou Kouffa of the Al-Qaeda-linked group known as JNIM, the council said.

Mohamed Kibiri, spokesman for the council, said on Tuesday that he was asked by the government last week to launch discussions. He said they are working with their representatives in the country’s north.

“The only directive we have received is to negotiate only with the Malians,” he said. “The other jihadists we consider invaders.”

Mali’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Worship Mamadou Koné confirmed that the government asked the council to lead discussions with the two groups.

This is not the first time the Malian government has asked the council to open dialogue with jihadist groups. Earlier this year, the council reached a ceasefire agreement between an Al-Qaeda-linked group and local fighters in a village in the Niono circle in central Mali. The jihadists granted freedom of movement to the villagers, and peaceful cohabitation with the army and local armed groups, in exchange for compulsory veiling of women, collection of taxes and traditional justice.

Mali has been fighting growing insecurity since 2012, when Al-Qaeda-linked groups took over parts of the north. Despite a French-led military operation that forced many rebels from their northern strongholds in 2013, insurgents quickly regrouped and have been advancing year after year toward the south of the country, where the Malian capital is located.

Meanwhile, the French army said Tuesday its troops shot dead a woman while conducting an anti-terror reconnaissance operation with Malian soldiers in the west African country, prompting an investigation.

The woman died on Monday during a joint patrol “in an area where elements of an armed terrorist group has been detected east of Gossi” in the north, the French general staff said.

The soldiers saw two individuals riding a motorbike, but they left it behind to flee into the undergrowth when they spotted the French and Malian troops, said the statement.

“An abandoned assault rifle, ammunition and a military bag are discovered near the motorbike,” it added.

The soldiers “engage in the pursuit of one of the two individuals in the woods. Four warning shots are fired to stop him but the latter moves further away.”

“The individual turns sharply toward the soldiers who fire to neutralize” the target and then “discover that it is a woman,” suspected of being one of the people on the motorcycle.

“Residents of the nearest village are called to give the identity of this person” but “no one knows her,” said the general staff, adding that the body was buried at the site.

An investigation has been opened “to clarify the exact sequence of events and to shed full light on this combat action,” the statement concluded.

Deployed to Mali since 2013 because of deadly jihadist activity, a force of some 5,000 French troops is now being drawn down, potentially by as much as half by early next year.


Two dead, 450 arrested in Chile protest violence

Updated 20 October 2021

Two dead, 450 arrested in Chile protest violence

  • Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in 50 locations around the country to mark the anniversary of the street protests led by students

SANTIAGO: Two people died, 56 were injured and 450 arrested as clashes broke out in Chile during mass street protests to mark the second anniversary of a social uprising, police said on Tuesday.

Monday’s demonstrations throughout the country were to mark the October 2019 protests that sparked political change in the country and led to the start of a process to rewrite the Pinochet dictatorship-era constitution.

A man was killed by gunfire during an attempted robbery of a shop in Santiago on Monday while a woman died after falling from a motorcycle, also in the capital.

Most disturbances on Monday took place in Santiago where vandals set up street barricades, attacked a police station, and looted shops and public buildings, a police report said.

Authorities detained 450 people throughout the country, 279 of those in Santiago, while 11 civilians and 45 police officers were injured.

“The numbers are very high,” said Marcelo Araya, director of order and security at Chile’s Carabineros national police force.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in 50 locations around the country to mark the anniversary of the street protests led by students and sparked by a hike in metro fares.

The unrest that followed left 34 dead and 460 people with eye injuries, including some that lost their sight, from pellets and tear gas fired by police.

Billionaire right-wing President Sebastian Pinera’s government came under fire over the at times brutal response from security forces that included some rights violations.

The protests continued for four months up to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Juan Francisco Galli, the interior undersecretary, blamed Monday’s violence on opposition candidates for next month’s presidential election, leftist Gabriel Boric and centrist Yasna Provoste, for proposing and supporting pardons for detainees that “looted, destroyed everything and threw Molotov cocktails” during the 2019 protests.

“The people responsible for the violence are those that established in our country a sense of impunity, that there are no consequences for violence,” said Galli.

The violence contrasted with the peaceful protest by 10,000 people on Plaza Italia, the central square in Santiago that was the hub of the 2019 movement, whose behavior was “largely positive,” according to Araya.

That protest lasted around four hours with minimal police presence, although authorities had earlier removed traffic lights and rubbish bins to prevent vandals from damaging them.

Some 5,000 police officers were deployed throughout the country to keep order, according to local press.

Protesters demanded universal healthcare, free and improved schooling and higher pensions.

The demonstration coincided with the constituent assembly elected to re-write the constitution beginning its work following a period of 100 days in which it set out its internal rules.

The current constitution was implemented during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-90) and was one of the main targets of the 2019 protests.