Thousands of migrants have converged under the bridge that connects Del Rio, Texas, and Mexico's Ciudad Acuña, creating a makeshift camp with few basic services in intense heat in the latest border emergency facing U.S. President Joe Biden.
Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said that as of early Thursday evening, 10,503 migrants were under the Del Rio International Bridge, up from 8,200 in the morning.
Food and water has been scarce, around 20 migrants told Reuters, and temperatures have risen to around 37 C. Reuters witnessed hundreds of migrants wading through the Rio Grande river and back into Mexico to stock up on essentials they say they are not receiving on the American side.
The migrants are mostly Haitians, with Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans also present.
The squalid conditions are reflective of the humanitarian challenge facing Biden as border arrests hover around 20-year highs. U.S. authorities arrested more than 195,000 migrants at the Mexican border in August, according to government data released on Wednesday.
Ernesto, a 31-year-old Haitian migrant, slipped back into Mexico on Thursday to buy water and food — for the fourth time, he said, since arriving in the United States on Monday morning. Ernesto, who declined to give his surname to protect his identity, said he and his 3-year-old daughter had not been fed at the camp, where migrants are jostling for shade.
Sometimes, he said, he runs to avoid Mexican migration officials but is usually not bothered by them. "But now money is running out," he said.
Migrants showed Reuters tickets with numbers they had received from U.S. Border Patrol. Several said other migrants told them they could be stuck at the camp for up to five days.
U.S. border residents question policies
Border Patrol said in a statement it was increasing staffing in Del Rio to facilitate a "safe, humane and orderly process." Drinking water, towels and portable toilets have been provided, the statement said, while migrants wait to be transported to facilities.
Biden, a Democrat who took office in January, has rolled back some of the hardline immigration measures of his Republican predecessor, former president Donald Trump.
But he has been caught between pro-migrant groups and some Democrats who have criticized him for not doing more to help migrants, and opponents who say his policies have encouraged illegal immigration.
LISTEN | Biden's border challenges (March 2021):
Del Rio is in Val Verde County, which voted for Trump in 2020. Some residents in this sprawling, bilingual border town say they feel abandoned by the federal government on border security.
"Are they doing anything to stop them from coming?" one woman said as she looked down at the encampment while driving over the bridge.
Reaction from Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar:
Carlos, a 27-year-old Venezuelan who said he left his home after graduating university in July, said he thought the camp had doubled in size since he arrived on Tuesday. Carlos, who declined to give his full name, said he had only $10 left, and that there were 400 families ahead of him in the queue for processing.
Both migrants and Mexican officials said many more people are expected in coming days. Some told Reuters they had chosen to cross here because the river is shallow and they felt there was comparatively less cartel activity.
Reaction from Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin:
Jeff Jeune, a 27-year-old Haitian who was reselling water bottles for a 3 peso (15 cent) profit, said he and his young family were exhausted, hungry and sleeping on the ground. He fretted about his kids falling ill in the makeshift camp.
"My ten-year-old asks: 'When are we leaving?' He's always asking that."
The developments come as court hearings continue to take place related to several aspects of U.S. immigration and asylum policy.
Judge rules expulsion measure is invalid
On Thursday, a U.S. district judge blocked the expulsion of migrant families caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border under an order put in place by the Trump administration early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order, invoking Title 42, was issued in March 2020 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which cited the need to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia wrote the public health law the policy is based on does not authorize the expulsions of migrants. Expelling asylum seekers denies them the "opportunity to seek humanitarian benefits" they are entitled to under immigration law, he wrote.
The judge's order only applies to families and not to single adults, who represent most of the migrants arrested at the border.
Sullivan's order takes effect in 14 days. The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment.