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Haitians Pushed To U.S. Border By Misinformation Now Angry At Deportation

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Thousands of Haitian migrants are being removed from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border - in Del Rio, Texas, and neighboring Ciudad Acuna. For several days, more than 10,000 mostly Haitians had camped out on the border there with the hopes of entering the U.S. The Biden administration is now flying people back to Haiti. And on the Mexican side, authorities are bussing people to cities further south into Mexico.

Journalists have had a difficult time getting into the migrant camp, but we found two reporters who have been on the ground in the region. First is John Holman with Al Jazeera, based in Mexico...

JOHN HOLMAN: Thanks. Good to be with you.

CORNISH: ...And Jacqueline Charles with The Miami Herald.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Thank you.

CORNISH: Now, I know you both have been covering this closely. John, I'm going to start with you. You captured images of Border Patrol agents. They were on horses. They were trying to block Haitian migrants. And they were using lassos or whips. It's become something that the Department of Homeland Security is essentially saying they are going to investigate. What's the context behind those images?

HOLMAN: Yeah. And I just want to say as well, there was a lot of talk about whips and lassos. What we actually saw was them using long reins on their horses and flicking them towards people. So I didn't actually personally see any whips.

So it's really tense scenes there on the river. That was when the men were trying to get back across with food and water for their families. After that happened, that sort of flashpoint, that tension, then the Border Patrol agents - there were a lot of photographers and a lot of cameras there, and they may have suddenly become aware of that - let people pass through. And we didn't - we haven't seen any flashpoints of that nature at that point since then.

CORNISH: Jacqueline, what do we know about how so many Haitians ended up arriving at the border so quickly? I mean, did they essentially get through Mexico somehow undetected?

CHARLES: Honestly, I don't think that it was quickly. First of all, we have to remember that a lot of these, if not the majority of these people, are individuals who were in other countries in Latin America. They were living in Chile, they were living in Brazil, where the situation turned. They were having a hard time making a living.

And what they have told me when I spoke to them is a lot of them came to Mexico with the hope of being able to live in Mexico. But they've had a very difficult time getting work permits, finding jobs, even finding a place to live. And so this is a community that, you know, operates through word of mouth. So people started saying, hey, Ciudad Acuna is open. This port is open.

CORNISH: John, it's been reported that Mexican authorities are bussing people away from the border. So what does that mean for the community of people that have gathered here?

HOLMAN: Yeah. What's official is the governor of Coahuila has said that a flight's actually left with people back to Tapachula. That's in deep south Mexico, right on the border with Guatemala. And he's basically saying, if you want to be in our country, you got to process your papers there. And he's also said that he's in talks with U.S. authorities. So there's obviously coordination going on here between Mexico and the U.S. And that's something that's been happening for some time. Mexico has been stopping in Tapachula, on that southern border, people getting out and getting through. My colleague was actually there just last week, and he said there's a lot - thousands of people, a lot of them from Haiti also, they're in Tapachula at the moment. And Mexican authorities have sort of got that city circled off in the south to try and prevent them getting further up.

CHARLES: Can I just say that Tapachula was brought up - everyone I spoke to, every migrant, they raised the issue of Tapachula and that - the difficulties that they face in Tapachula, which led them to Ciudad Acuna. That is how all of these Haitians have ended up there, because of what's been happening in Tapachula on top of the difficulties of being able to get legal documents in Mexico.

CORNISH: So, Jacqueline, when it comes to the Biden administration's response here, trying to send some sort of message not to cross the border, what is getting through?

CHARLES: Right now, it's not necessarily getting through. People are still treating it as rumors, that they hear that the U.S. is deporting people. I think as the days go on, this message will start to really trickle down. What I found in Mexico was that people had heard it, and so they were contemplating whether or not to take the risk.

But as videos are starting to circulate out of Haiti and people are starting to hear interviews with returning migrants, it is starting to maybe get to Mexico. But we know that there are still people - migrants - who are trying to make it across.

CORNISH: Of the Haitians who have been flown home, are they returning with the message? What has that return been like? Because I don't know how a country like Haiti - that is going through, you know, the political turmoil, the natural disaster, the aftermath of that - can, like, absorb people being returned.

CHARLES: The returnees are angry. On the one hand, they are insisting that the border was open. They don't understand, you know, why they were detained. They are complaining about the conditions in detention. They are blaming the Haitian government for, quote-unquote, "signing deportation papers."

To me, there's a lack of understanding that they crossed illegally, irregularly into the United States. They really are under the impression that what they did was sanctioned. So right there, you see the shortcoming in terms of what the Biden administration is trying to do.

At the same time, we do see what Secretary Mayorkas is saying in terms of the misinformation. A number of people have said that they ended up there because people said, hey, if I had a child in Chile, I can get TPS in the United States. Or somebody says, Blinken said to come. Where people are getting this information, it's unclear, but they were guided by this idea that they would welcomed into the United States.

CORNISH: That's Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald. We also heard from John Holman of Al Jazeera. Thank you both for sharing your reporting.

HOLMAN: Cheers a lot (ph).

CHARLES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.