DEL RIO, Texas — A crisis unfolding this week in Del Rio, as more than 14,000 migrants are encamped under the International Bridge and surrounding area.
Officials expect that number to rise to at least 20,000 in the coming days.
Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said Monday there was at least 2,000 migrants at the camp, and the number has risen significantly through the week.
“We now have one third of the population of Del Rio, Texas in a confined space, under the City of Del Rio International Bridge,” Lozano said.
Raul Ortiz, the newly sworn-in U.S. Border Patrol chief, said cartels are bussing the migrants, mostly Haitians, into Acuna, Mexico, where they’re crossing the river into Del Rio in large numbers.
“We've never seen a migrant population explode so quickly on the immediate border like we saw over the last 72 hours,” said Ortiz.
Ortiz said officials will start moving the migrants out on buses as soon as Friday night, transporting them to Border Patrol-managed processing facilities across the southern border.
“We're experiencing right now a huge population mixed of unaccompanied children, family units and then, of course, single adults,” said Ortiz. “So, when you have to divide those populations up and everyone gets a different type of processing, it requires facilities to make sure that they can support that.”
Ortiz said they plan to clear out the encampment in the next week.
Ortiz said more manpower is coming at the start of this weekend to control the situation as the migrants are becoming more and more agitated.
“We need to do everything we can to manage the safety and security of the migrants, the community and, of course, our agents,” he added.
Another fear is COVID-19 spread as thousands are gathered in a confined space.
Lozano issued an emergency declaration on Friday. City and county officials also shut down the Del Rio International Bridge, effective at 6 p.m. Friday.
Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that all traffic will be diverted through the Eagle Pass Port of Entry.
“I need to protect the assets of Del Rio in the event that these individuals get beyond frustrated and just overtake this fence,” said Lozano.
A native of Del Rio, Ortiz said this is something the city has never experienced before.
“This is ground zero for us right now,” said Ortiz. “You think about the amount of agents and the lack of capacity here in this community, this is just at this point overwhelming for the resources that we have on hand.”
And, with more caravans of migrants expected in the coming days, Ortiz said they have a plan to divert the traffic.
“We need to make sure is that we work with our partners in Mexico so we can slow that traffic down or deter it and turn it around,” Ortiz said. "They need to know that they don't have a free pass to come into the U.S. right here.”
The Biden administration worked Saturday on plans to send many of the thousands of Haitian immigrants who have gathered in a Texas border city back to their Caribbean homeland, in a swift response to the huge influx of people who suddenly crossed the border from Mexico and congregated under and around a bridge.
Details were yet to be finalized but would likely involve five to eight flights per day that would begin Sunday, according to an official with direct knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. San Antonio, the nearest major city to Del Rio, where the migrants have gathered, could be among the departure cities.
The official said Friday that operational capacity and Haiti's willingness would determine the number of flights, but that “good progress” was being made.