'I can't live like this': Haitian migrants run out of options, flee camp in Mexico

CIUDAD ACUÑA, Mexico — Several Haitian migrants fled a makeshift camp at a park near the Rio Grande in Acuña, Mexico, as authorities closed in on those seeking safe haven in the United States.

Some sought shelter elsewhere in the city. Others decided to make one more journey across the Rio Grande on Thursday night. Many of those who risked the waters carried their scared and crying children on their shoulders.

For the past few days, migrants have sought refuge in the park to avoid sweeps of Haitians by authorities in the city. Their departure from the park was driven by feelings of uncertainty, stress, fear, defeat and desperation that began at daybreak Thursday.

More: El Paso human rights advocates organize march supporting Haitian asylum-seekers

Crowds of migrants were told by Mexico's National Immigration Institute (INM), who arrived at the Braulio Fernández Aguirre Park during the day, they would be taken from the camp to a nearby shelter, and would be later taken back to Tapachula, Chiapas.

The National Immigration Institute offices in Tapachula, which is more than 1,500 miles southeast of Acuña near Mexico's southern border, is the only place where the migrants would be able to obtain documentation to reside and work in Mexico, officials said Thursday.

"Please let us do that here," one Haitian man pleaded to Mexican authorities. "Please help us get a permit to go out in the street safely here in Mexico. Please help us stay here."

The announcement to migrants came hours after Mexican State Police entered the park just before 6 a.m. and lined up their vehicles on the southern banks of the Rio Grande. In the U.S., Texas Department of Public Safety troopers lined up on the northern banks of the river.

Mexican authorities also limited entrance to the park to law enforcement and families who were distributing food and water.

Francisco Garduño Yáñez, secretary of Mexico's National Immigration Institute, visited Ciudad Acuña this week and said that Mexico is "committed to respecting and safeguarding the rights of migrants, but also with enforcing the laws of the country."

Mexico's enforcement actions have reduced the flow of Haitians to the U.S. to a trickle. The Haitian migrant camp in Del Rio continues to shrink, as migrants are bused away or placed on flights back to Haiti.

Early Friday morning, Haitians continued to clean up and head out of the park. Only about 100 people remained.

More: Mexican government cracks down on Haitian migrants in Ciudad Acuña

'I'll keep running'

The Mexico's National Immigration Institute officials' message Thursday came as yet another defeat for migrants who have been seeking a better life since they left Haiti years ago.

Wely Jean had been thinking about the type of business he'd start and the type of jobs he could do in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.

He'd like to get a car and become a taxi driver. He could work delivering bottled and purified water to homes and businesses, he said.

But what he'd really like to do is to start a vegetable and food garden.

"I could sell fruit," Jean, 32, said. "I don't see too much fruit growing around here. I could do that."

More: Drone photos: The latest look inside the Haitian migrant encampment in Del Rio, Texas

On Thursday, Jean's hopes of having a better life than the one he left behind in Haiti more than three years ago, were lost once again.

"We spent months in Tapachula. There are no jobs for us, we won't be able to make it there, it's not safe for us," Jean said. "If they try to take me there I'll keep running. But I can't live like this anymore."

Throughout the day Thursday, several migrants were not sure what they'd do next.

Vickner Normil was overwhelmed by defeat, stress and humiliation from his experience this week.

When they said police patrols drive into the park Thursday morning, everyone at the park worried and fear what would come next, he said.

"We are left with nothing," Normil said. "Nothing in Haiti, nothing here."

Mexican State Police close access to the Rio Grande immigration officials in Ciudad Acuña after Mexican police entered the Braulio Fernandez Park where the migrants had taken refuge on Thursday Sept. 23, 2021.
Mexican State Police close access to the Rio Grande immigration officials in Ciudad Acuña after Mexican police entered the Braulio Fernandez Park where the migrants had taken refuge on Thursday Sept. 23, 2021.

Ciudad Acuña residents also seeking answers

Some Acuña residents who were at the park Thursday distributing food, clothing and water for Haitian migrant families, asked Mexican authorities why the city had not yet facilitated a temporary area where the migrant families could stay until they got on their feet.

More: 'It could happen to us': How Acuña families are helping Haitian migrants in need

"It's so upsetting what's happening to them," said David Martinez, of Acuña, who helped migrants carry items across the Rio Grande Thursday. "How come the (Mexican) government allowed them to make it all the way up here, and now they want to turn them back. Why? That's not OK. It's an injustice for them to come from so far, suffering."

Austin American-Statesman reporter Natalia Contreras can be reached at 512-626-4036 or ncontreras@statesman.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, @NataliaECG.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Haitian migrants flee Mexico camp near Del Rio as options run out