Panama Had Reportedly ‘Sounded the Alarm’ to Biden Over Haitian Influx, Warns of Next Migrant Surge
Thousands of migrants, largely from Haiti, had flooded an impromptu camp in the Texas town of Del Rio, waiting to be picked up by border authorities earlier this month, with the Joe Biden administration under bipartisan fire for the “chaos” that resulted from “failure to enforce immigration laws and halt illegal crossings”.
Panama Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes has warned that as many as 60,000 migrants, mostly Haitian, are poised to head towards the US-Mexico border, according to Axios.
Mouynes also cast doubt on the fact that the administration of President Joe Biden was caught unawares by the Haitian migrant crisis, insisting her government had "sounded the alarm when we should have."
"We've engaged with every single authority that we can think of, that we can come across, to say, 'Please, let's pay attention to this,'" Mouynes said.
While over 85,000 migrants have passed through Panama since January, most of them Haitians, with an estimated 25,000 already reaching their destination and entering the US, said the Panama official.
© AFP 2022 / Guillermo AriasHaitian migrants seeking asylum in the United States, queue at El Chaparral border crossing in the hope of getting an appointment with US migration authorities, in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, in Baja California, on October 7, 2016
Haitian migrants seeking asylum in the United States, queue at El Chaparral border crossing in the hope of getting an appointment with US migration authorities, in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, in Baja California, on October 7, 2016
As she cited Panamanian government estimates showing nearly 27,000 migrants are planning to cross this month through the Darién Gap – the mountainous, roadless region that connects North and South America. This number is more than in all of 2019, the minister emphasised, added:
“Let's recognize that they all are heading toward the US."
Panama is where northbound migrants often receive their first help, in the form of medical assistance, food and shelter.
"When we receive them on the Panamanian side, they're malnourished. The children are in terrible condition, so even getting them up to a healthy state takes time," the minister was cited by Axios as saying.
Mouynes, who had been conducting meetings with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and members of Congress in Washington on Monday and Tuesday, urged Washington to get on board with countries in the region to enforce a strategy to deal with the migrant challenge. She also voiced support for enhanced engagement with Haiti.
"We all have a role to play in this issue, and the regional approach is the correct approach. It is impossible for Panama to solve it on its own," Mouynes said.
Latin American officials, according to the minister, had held task force meetings to hammer out a plan to deter charter planes from landing in countries with migrants, as well as to impose quotas at borders to slash numbers of migrants in transit countries. "If you can control migration, you can support it," said Mouynes.
Panama is hoping to set in place migrant quota systems with its neighbours Peru and Brazil such as the one already functioning with Colombia and Costa Rica. A “frustrated” Colombia is currently holding back 30000 migrants seeking to cross into Panama and would prefer for her country to accept greater numbers, added Erika Mouynes.
The Foreign Minister suggested meetings by Mayorkas or other top American officials with cabinet-level regional leaders to focus on the migrant issues. They could be seen as a follow-up to those held in August involving immigration officials and attorneys general from South American governments, Mexico, Canada and the US.
There has not yet been any official comment from the Department of Homeland Security on the statements made by the Panama Foreign Minister.
This comes as the Biden administration cleared some 15,000-17,000 Haitian migrants from the Del Rio camp near the Mexican border last week. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had visited Del Rio and weighed in on the “challenging and heartbreaking situation”, vowing to take swift action to resolve the migrant problem that a town of 35,000 residents had been facing.
“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned, your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family's life,'' he said at a news conference.
At a White House press briefing on 24 September the Homeland Security Secretary said that no migrants remained at the border camp under a bridge in Del Rio. US authorities encountered nearly 30,000 migrants in Del Rio since 9 September, according to Mayorkas.
Alejandro Mayorkas said that approximately 2,000 Haitian nationals have been taken back to their native country on 17 repatriation flights organized by the DHS. According to Mayorka, approximately 10,000-12,000 Haitian migrants have been released by the US for their cases to be heard by immigration judges who will determine whether they will be deported or remain in America.
© REUTERS / STRINGERSoldiers and members of a rescue and protection team clean debris from a house after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti August 15, 2021
Soldiers and members of a rescue and protection team clean debris from a house after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti August 15, 2021
Haiti has been devastated by two massive earthquakes, one in 2010 and the other in August of this year, with political instability also plaguing the Caribbean nation, exacerbated when President Jovenel Moise was killed in July.
President Joe Biden has received massive bipartisan backlash for the administration’s failure to address the crisis at the southern border.
Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Fox News Wednesday that “this is all happening because Joe Biden and Kamala Harris refuse to enforce the law… and have essentially said anyone who wants to come to America, they’re gonna resettle them, they’re gonna give them benefits, they’re gonna let ’em stay, and it’s resulting in a public health crisis and a humanitarian crisis.”
© REUTERS / JOSE LUIS GONZALEZA migrant from Guatemala runs to hide from U.S. Border Patrol after crossing into the United States from Mexico, in Sunland Park, New Mexico, U.S., July 22, 2021
A migrant from Guatemala runs to hide from U.S. Border Patrol after crossing into the United States from Mexico, in Sunland Park, New Mexico, U.S., July 22, 2021
“The Biden Administration’s failure to enforce immigration laws and halt illegal crossings on a federal dam poses life-threatening risks to Texans and the migrants themselves,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
“We’re here to tell you, it exists, it’s total chaos, and the Biden administration, they need to up their game big time,” Abbott added.