'We just run': Raids, arrests of Haitian migrants continue in Mexico, some admonish treatment

·4 min read

CIUDAD ACUÑA, Mexico — Naty Zuñiga, 60, choked up trying to explain what she witnessed on the streets of Acuña this week.

Many Haitian migrants ate at a restaurant downtown where her daughter works and where Zuñiga often helps serving tables.

Mexican authorities, she said, are picking up Haitian migrants off the streets. It happens at any time of day. Many Acuña residents said Wednesday that migrants, once they're picked up, are mistreated and it's unclear where they're taken.

"I know (the authorities) are trying to do their jobs but there are so many of us who, just like them, are not from here," Zuñiga, who left Durango, Mexico, and arrived in Acuña as a child with her family, said while she wiped away tears. "We arrived here, in the same way, we didn't have anything. So I know they're struggling."

Naty Zuniga laments what is occurring in her adoptive city of Acuna where dozens of Haitian Migrants have been detained by Mexican immigration officers. She believes the migrants should be allowed to stay in her city.
Naty Zuniga laments what is occurring in her adoptive city of Acuna where dozens of Haitian Migrants have been detained by Mexican immigration officers. She believes the migrants should be allowed to stay in her city.

Haitian migrants walked the streets of Acuña on Wednesday looking for food, water and clothing to take back to an encampment on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, in Del Rio, Texas. Many others have set up a camp in a park in Acuña.

Raids have been occurring this week on the streets of the Mexican border town and at many local hotels in the middle of the night, residents, hotel guests and hotel staff said Wednesday. The latest raid happened Tuesday night.

Earlier this week, Cuidad Acuña officials said in a statement that local police weren't engaging in immigration enforcement but were assisting federal immigration authorities under an agreement. It's unclear what the terms of the agreement are.

More: DHS vows to have findings within 'days' in investigation of Border Patrol's treatment of Haitian migrants

Haitian migrants said Wednesday they were scared and staying vigilant. But they have no other options, Frantz Sainlus, one of hundreds of Haitian migrants seeking asylum in the U.S., said.

He's crossing the river every morning to come to Mexico and gather water and food for his wife and 1-year-old daughter waiting in Del Rio.

Haitian migrants speak to their loved ones after charging their phones at the Braulio Fernandez park in Ciudad Acuna on Tuesday Sept. 21, 2021.
Haitian migrants speak to their loved ones after charging their phones at the Braulio Fernandez park in Ciudad Acuna on Tuesday Sept. 21, 2021.

Sainlus, 27, said he knows he's risking detention and deportation.

"There's not enough to eat. We have to do this," he said. "If we see police or immigration here we just run."

For Haitian migrants in Acuña, it isn't safe in the streets and it isn't safe inside hotel rooms where they have tried to spend the night this week.

Edwin Sorto, a migrant who is originally from El Salvador, stayed at one of the hotels in the town that was raided Tuesday night.

More: Photos: Huddled masses — Life inside Haitian migrants camp as they await uncertain future

He witnessed Mexican authorities taking families out of hotel rooms by force.

"I heard women and children crying," he said. "They said 'we're human, we have rights.' It was frightening."

Haitian migrants are given donations from Mexicans in Ciudad Acuna as they arrive at the border city with hopes of entering the U.S. through Del Rio, Texas.
Haitian migrants are given donations from Mexicans in Ciudad Acuna as they arrive at the border city with hopes of entering the U.S. through Del Rio, Texas.

Non-Haitian migrants who were detained by Mexican immigration officials Tuesday said they did not experience or witness mistreatment.

A Black woman from Honduras, who asked to not be named for safety concerns, said she was detained because Mexican authorities believed she was Haitian.

She and many Haitian migrants staying at a downtown hotel Tuesday night were asked by Mexican authorities to gather their belongings. Officials took them to an immigration office nearby.

"They were respectful, asked us if we were hungry, if we needed food or water," the woman said Wednesday. "I told them I was from Honduras and that I was authorized to live in Mexico. They let me go a few hours later."

Hotel managers said when authorities walk into hotel lobbies to search for migrants, they do not have warrants. At least two men managing local hotels in Acuña said Wednesday they don't feel comfortable standing up to Mexican authorities to stop the raids.

More: See drone footage, satellite images showing thousands of Haitian migrants gathered at Del Rio border

"I risk getting arrested by them or getting my establishment shut down," one man, who asked not to be named for safety concerns, said. "It's sad. We have migrants coming through here all the time, from Central America, Cuba, we really don't know why (Haitians) are getting treated this way."

Austin American-Statesman reporter Natalia Contreras can be reached at 512-626-4036 or ncontreras@statesman.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, @NataliaECG.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Raids, arrests of Haitian migrants continue in Mexico near the border

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