CIUDAD ACUÑA, Mexico, Sept. 19 (Reuters) – A US law enforcement officer on horseback brandished what looked like a lariat and whipped it close to the face of a man wading in the Rio Grande carrying a plastic bag of groceries.
It was just a desperate moment in a few hours of such scenes on the Rio Grande on Sunday.
Hundreds of Haitian migrants camping under a bridge in the Texas city of Del Rio attempted to bring food and other supplies out of Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila state, Mexico, while US officials have stepped up security at the border and have begun bringing migrants fly out of the area, some to Haiti.
Migrants said their wretched camp under a bridge on the US side of the river was in short supply. US officials had let migrants cross back and forth at a shallow part of the river in the past few days. However, on Sunday they informed migrants that they would not be able to return to the US side if they ventured into Mexico.
“We’re trapped,” said Joncito Jean, 37, who slept on a sheet on the floor for three days with his wife and children, ages 3 and 4. He said he regretted the decision to come.
“There are no decent conditions … we have to break out to buy water.”
More than 12,000 migrants, identified as predominantly Haitian by officials on both sides, have gathered under the bridge in recent days, awaiting immigration processing. Instead, US officials began removing several thousand people from the camp over the weekend, including some who later arrived in Haiti.
However, several people who spoke to Reuters, most of whom were traveling with their children, said they would take their chance to try to stay in the United States.
Mackenley Pearre, 25, left impoverished Haiti with his cousin, wife and two-year-old daughter in July as the violence worsened and he could not find a job as an electrician. Haiti’s president was assassinated in July and a major earthquake and storm struck the country in August.
“You have to do something to avoid starvation,” he said, eating a tamale given to him by a local resident on the Mexican side, one of several people who said they felt compelled to help.
At a press conference in Del Rio on Sunday, US Border Protection chief Raul Ortiz said resources were available.
“We provide food, water, portable toilets, towels, and paramedics are on hand to provide first aid,” said Ortiz.
“In the next 6 to 7 days, our goal is to process the 12,662 migrants we have under this bridge as quickly as possible,” said Ortiz. “What we want to make sure is that we keep the migrants from coming to the region so we can manage the people who are under the bridge at this point.”
At the border, migrants waded deeper to avoid law enforcement. Men in particular, many of them barefoot and in boxer shorts, tried trickier crossings through waist-high water. Some migrants crossed the border at a different point where the water spilled on their necks.
Reuters journalists saw mounted officers wearing cowboy hats and vests marked “POLICE US BORDER PATROL” blocking the path of migrants scrambling up the US dam with plastic bags and cardboard boxes.
After one of the officers in the West unrolled a lariat-like string like a whip and steered his horse to fend off the migrants, one fell back into the water. He got up and tried again, but the officer swung the string again near his face.
In another incident, the same officer grabbed the back of the shirt of a migrant who was trying to walk up the bank with bags of groceries.
Both people eventually appeared to slip by while officers tried to hold back migrants who were scattered in all directions. A group of about two dozen people were later seen on the US side of the river behind yellow tape near several patrol cars.
Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Alberto Fajardo and Daniel Becerril in Ciudad Acuña; Alexandra Ulmer in Del Rio. Adaptation by Donna Bryson and Diane Craft
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