Thousands of Haitian migrants had assembled under and around the bridge in the small Texas border town as chaos unfolded Friday and presented the Biden administration with a new challenge as it tries to manage large numbers of asylum-seekers who have been reaching U.S. soil.
Haitians crossed the Rio Grande freely and in a steady stream, going back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico through knee-deep water with some parents carrying small children on their shoulders. Unable to buy supplies in the U.S., they returned briefly to Mexico for food and cardboard to settle, temporarily at least, under or near the bridge in Del Rio, a city of 35,000 that has been severely strained by migrant flows in recent months.
Migrants pitched tents and built makeshift shelters from giant reeds known as carrizo cane. Many bathed and washed clothing in the river.
The vast majority of the estimated 12,000 migrants at the bridge on Friday were Haitian, said Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, who is the county’s top elected official and whose jurisdiction includes Del Rio. Some families have been under the bridge for as long as six days.
Trash piles were 10 feet (3.1 meters) wide and at least two women have given birth, including one who tested positive for COVID-19 after being taken to a hospital, Owens said.
Haitians have been migrating to the U.S. in large numbers from South America for several years, many of them having left the Caribbean nation after a devastating earthquake in 2010.