Abbott calls on Biden to declare federal emergency, provide aid to influx of migrants near Del Rio, Texas


Update at 13:50: to include comments from White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

AUSTIN – Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday called on President Joe Biden to declare a federal emergency and provide resources to help state and local authorities deal with a surge of migrants on the Texas-Mexico border near Del Rio.

The “federal government’s failure to enforce immigration laws and in particular its failure to stop illegal crossings over a roadblock on federal property, which is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government.” , overloads the capacity of Texas, Del Rio and Val Verde County. to respond to a “concentrated influx” of immigrants who crossed illegally on Wednesday, Abbott said in a statement and his letter to Biden.

The migrants, many from Haiti, camped near the Del Rio International Bridge and on Saturday their number reached around 16,000, the Republican governor said in his letter.

“Thousands of families are stranded in 100-degree heat as their numbers continue to rise while waiting to be treated by the area’s 64 or so federal agents,” Abbott wrote. “People camp in squalid conditions and bathe in the muddy water of the river, causing serious health problems.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted on Monday that videos of what is happening on the Del Rio bridge are disturbing, but said the federal government was already acting on several fronts to help both migrants there and improve conditions in Haiti.

“It’s a difficult situation,” Psaki said during a White House press briefing. “It’s devastating to watch these images. It is important, however, that people also know what we are trying to do is also protect people.

As the Department of Homeland Security sends border patrol and immigration and customs officers to the Del Rio area, the federal government “is also taking a multi-pronged approach,” Psaki said.

The effort includes relief services and supplies provided by the American Red Cross, meals from World Central Kitchen and “repatriation flights”, either to countries in Latin America or to Haiti, he said. she declared.

On Sunday, the federal government began repatriating some migrants to Haiti. Yellow police tape was used to prevent migrants from using a small roadblock to enter the United States

Many migrants have lived in Latin America for years, but are now seeking asylum in the United States as economic opportunities in Brazil and elsewhere dry up, the Associated Press reported.

Abbott told the Democratic President that the Del Rio disaster “is so severe that further federal assistance is needed to reduce the threat of disaster, save lives and protect property, public health and safety.” He asked for three types of federal aid.

Since Abbott declared a state of disaster in border counties on May 31, Texas has spent $ 84 million “beyond its usual appropriations to combat the current crisis at our international border,” wrote the governor.

“The state of Texas is doing more than any other state to protect the border, but it takes more,” Abbott said.

He checked off how the Texas Department of Public Safety has sent hundreds of state police officers to border areas who enforce state trespassing, smuggling, and human trafficking laws; and how the Texas National Guard is helping to erect a fence at the state border, aiding in arrests, and recently sent over 1,000 troops “to the Del Rio area alone.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which manages the state’s prison system, operates a treatment center for migrants arrested on state charges in Val Verde County, Abbott added.

Law enforcement “capacities” are “stretched”, both in the border region and throughout the state, he wrote.

“Several domestic US Border Patrol checkpoints are currently closed, allowing human and drug-trafficking criminals to travel freely within the state. The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard are under pressure to send thousands of state personnel to the area, even though immigration and border security are federal responsibilities. “

On Monday, Psaki was not specifically questioned about Abbott’s request for a federal declaration of emergency.

She was asked, however, about Houston Democratic US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s appeal to Biden administration to send immigration staff to Del Rio to hear individual asylum requests from Haitians on the grounds that they fear for their safety if returned.

This is tricky, Psaki acknowledged, as the administration also continues to enforce a provision known as Title 42, a pandemic-related authority adopted by former President Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows migrants to ” be immediately expelled from the country without the possibility of seeking asylum. Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the order but left the rest in place.

“Now is not the time to come” to the United States, she said.

Psaki rebuffed suggestions that the United States discriminated against Haiti in its immigration enforcement. She noted that on May 22, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced a new Temporary Protected Status designation for Haiti which, in some cases, may protect against eviction. The United States is also trying to help Haiti recover from an earthquake, presidential assassination and civil unrest, she said.

“We certainly want to support (…) Haiti during a very difficult time,” she said.

Psaki was also asked about photographs of border patrol officers on horseback appearing to use whips, or at least pieces of reins, as they attempted to repel Haitian migrants by the Rio Grande river in Del Rio.

“I don’t think anyone seeing these footage would think it’s acceptable or appropriate,” Psaki said, noting that she had just seen photos and videos late Monday morning.

“I don’t have the full background,” she said. “It’s horrible to watch. I just need to get more info on this.

Abbott, meanwhile, called for a tougher federal crackdown on the influx of migrants to Del Rio.

On Thursday, the governor denounced the Biden administration for refusing to close ports of entry into the region.

“The Biden administration is in disarray and is handling the border crisis as badly as the evacuation from Afghanistan,” Abbott said in a statement.

Since last winter, Abbott has increasingly criticized Biden’s immigration policies, saying they have encouraged a flood of unauthorized crossings by migrants from many countries. In March, he created Operation Lone Star and sent police and guard troops to border areas.

In June, Abbott announced that Texas would resume construction of a border fence that Trump was seeking to create. After Congress rejected his demands for money, Trump siphoned funds from the Defense Department’s construction budget.

After Biden froze billions in spending for Trump’s federally funded wall effort, Abbott concocted roughly $ 1 billion in public funds for border barriers. A crowdsourcing campaign raised around $ 54.3 million from private donors, according to an Abbott website.

In the second special legislative session of the year, which ended earlier this month, Abbott also raised $ 100 million in public funds to create an Operation Lone Star grant program.

On Monday, his office said it would start accepting applications. The money will help local law enforcement agencies, prison administrators, forensic scientists and court administrators.

At Abbott’s request, they help arrest, incarcerate and prosecute illegal immigrants on charges of state trespassing and criminal mischief, as well as more serious charges of smuggling and human trafficking. Forensic scientists examine human remains.

While Abbott has said he is doing everything he can to keep communities safe in Texas, one of his Republican challengers in next year’s governor’s primary, Dallas businessman Don Huffines , said on Monday that was not enough.

“Once again @GregAbbott_TX look for @Joe Biden instead of doing what is necessary ”, Huffines tweeted, a former state senator. He again cited a provision in the US Constitution that allows states to engage in war, without congressional approval, if they are invaded. Huffins says the migrants are an invasion.

On August 7, 2021, Cesar (left) and his wife Maria, 51, watch the play their two sons - Anibal, 30 and Byron, 20 - left when they migrated to the United States after the pandemic cut off their main source of income.  The couple live in a small town in the province of Chimborazo in Ecuador.


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