02:49 - Source: CNN
DHS chief: About 4,000 migrants in Del Rio have been expelled
CNN  — 

Approximately 4,600 Haitians have been removed from the United States on repatriation flights from Texas to Haiti since September 19, a Homeland Security spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday.

The Biden administration has relied on a Trump-era public health authority, known as Title 42, to swiftly remove migrants encountered at the US-Mexico border, including Haitians who amassed under the Del Rio International Bridge this month.

The Department of Homeland Security has been conducting regular removal flights to Haiti. Since September 19, it has conducted 43 repatriation flights from Del Rio, Texas, to Haiti.

Thousands of migrants – many of whom were Haitians – had converged at the makeshift camp at the Del Rio International Bridge earlier this month, waiting to get processed by US immigration authorities.

DHS raced to clear out the camp and the last remaining migrants left the temporary site on Friday. Some migrants were moved to US Customs and Border Protection processing centers, several thousand were released into the US and others were flown back to Haiti.

Many of the Haitians who camped at Del Rio were believed to have been living in South America since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, but fled as jobs dried up in the region.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas cited the toll of the pandemic on economies as a contributing factor to the surge of migrants over recent months and defended the continued use of a public health authority, known as Title 42, to swiftly expel those who arrive.

“The fact of the matter is – this is not specific to Haitian diaspora – but the world is still reeling from a pandemic. And the downturn of economies have caused people in greater numbers to leave their homes,” Mayorkas said Monday during the annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference.

Years later, Haitians who arrived to the US southern border are now being returned to a country facing political instability following the assassination of the president in August and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in the same month that left more than 2,000 people dead.

The repatriation flights to Haiti have fielded criticism from immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers who have urged the administration to stop sending Haitian migrants to a country grappling with a humanitarian crisis.

Last week, Daniel Foote, the US special envoy for Haiti, handed in his resignation to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, saying he will “not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees” from the US-Mexico border. He added that the US policy approach to Haiti remains “deeply flawed.”

But senior administration officials, including Mayorkas, have defended their decision, saying that they studied conditions and determined migrants could be sent back.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.