Questions linger over response to surge of Haitians showing up in Del Rio

Why wasn't the U.S. government better prepared

As the federal government was working to process and remove an estimated 15,000 migrants from under the international bridge in Del Rio, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials held an “on background” conference call with reporters covering the effort.

During that call, DHS officials said they “had no prior intelligence” such a large number of mostly Haitian immigrants were approaching our border. DHS officials further said they were investigating how such a large-scale movement “flew under the radar.”

Since that conference call, KPRC 2 Investigates obtained a border patrol briefing document from August that reads, “As of July 30, 2021, open sources reported that over 10,000 migrants from Haiti, Africa and Cuba massed in Necocli, Colombia waiting to be ferried across the Gulf of Uraba and into Panama.” The document further read, “These migrants transiting through Necocli were expected to make their way to Mexico via land routes with the intent to reach the United States.”

KPRC reached out to DHS officials regarding this information but has not yet received a response.

The news organization Axios also reported Panama’s foreign minister “expressed frustration” the “Biden administration seemed caught off guard.” Axios further reported the foreign minister was exasperated “after spending months warning leaders across the hemisphere of the impeding Haitian wave.” Axios reported Panama’s foreign minister warned that thousands of Haitian migrants may still try to reach the US.

More questions arose following a Thursday briefing by the Texas Department of Public Safety on its effort to respond to the overwhelming number of migrants showing up in Del Rio. DPS’s South Texas Regional Director Victor Escalon was asked whether the state received a prior warning on the large number of migrants that were heading to the border. Escalon said in early September hundreds of Haitian migrants made it to Del Rio, but the numbers at that time were not overwhelming resources.

“The US Border Patrol was going to fly them over, back to Haiti. They were going to fly over 900 on the eight, but it was canceled. It was canceled and (Border Patrol) had to process 800 to 900. Those were released within two days. So on Sept. 10, they were out on the streets. But guess what? They’re on social media, and they’re pushing out to the rest of South America and Central America, ‘Hey we’re getting cut loose.’ So as a result, after the 10th, we see the numbers increasing.”

Homeland security officials said more than 12,000 Haitian immigrants who arrived in Del Rio were released into the U.S. while their removal cases are pending. KPRC has also asked DHS for information regarding the canceled flight mentioned by Escalon, but has not yet received a response on that point either.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”