Thousands of migrants have converged under the bridge that connects Del Rio, Texas and Mexico's Ciudad Acuna, 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 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). 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 added.
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. 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 added, while migrants wait to be transported to facilities. Biden, a Democrat who took office in January, has rolled back many 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. 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 while she looked down at the encampment while driving over the bridge.
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. 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."