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How Hope, Fear and Misinformation Led Thousands of Haitians to the U.S. Border

People seeking asylum carry food and supplies across the Rio Grande to a makeshift camp near the international Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (Ver–nica G. C‡rdenas/The New York Times) DEL RIO, Texas — They have arrived this week by the thousands, Haitians who had heard of an easy way into the United States. In what appeared to be an endless procession across the shallow waters of the Rio Grande, they carried mattresses, fruit, diapers and blankets, provisions to tide them over while they awaited their turn to plead for entry into America.

For so many, it had been a journey years in the making.

“A friend of mine told me to cross here. I heard it was easier,” said Mackenson, a 25-year-old Haitian who spoke on the condition that his last name not be published. He and his pregnant wife had traveled from Tapachula, Mexico, near the country’s border with Guatemala, where they had been living after earlier stops over the last three years in Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Panama. “It took us two months to get here on foot and by bus.”

This week, the couple joined an estimated 14,000 other migrants who have converged upon the border community of Del Rio, Texas, a surge that has overwhelmed local officials and authorities and comes amid a staggering spike in border crossings this year. On Friday morning, as the summer sun beat down, the couple found a moment of solace in the shade of the Del Rio International Bridge, which had quickly become a very crowded staging area, with migrants jostling for a patch of dirt upon which to sit and rest.

By Friday evening, federal authorities had closed the entrance to the bridge and were routing traffic 57 miles away to Eagle Pass, Texas, saying it was necessary to “respond to urgent safety and security needs presented” by the influx and would “protect national interests.”

The rise in Haitian migration began in the months after President Joe Biden took office and quickly began reversing former President Donald Trump’s strictest immigration policies, which was interpreted by many as a sign that the United States would be more welcoming to migrants. In May, the administration extended temporary protected status for the 150,000 Haitians already living in the country. But tens of thousands have attempted to cross into the United States since then despite not qualifying for the program.

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