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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Asylum-seeking migrants rest in the shade near the international bridge between Mexico and the United States as asylum-seeking migrants wait to be processed in Del Rio, Texas, US, September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Jo Nakamura

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by Alexandra Ulmer

Ciudad Acuña, Mexico (Reuters) – Thousands of migrants crowded under the bridge between Del Rio, Texas and Mexico’s Ciudad Acuña, setting up a makeshift camp with few basic services in sweltering heat in the latest border emergency facing U.S. President Joe Biden.

As of early Thursday evening, Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said 10,503 migrants were under the Del Rio International Bridge, up from 8,200 in the morning.

About 20 migrants told Reuters that food and water were scarce, and temperatures rose to around 99 Fahrenheit (37 Celsius). Reuters watched hundreds of migrants wading into the Rio Grande and returning to Mexico to stock up on necessities they say they are not receiving from the US side.

Most of the immigrants are Haitians, with Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans also present.

The dire conditions reflect the humanitarian challenge facing Biden as border arrests hover around their highest level in 20 years. US authorities https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-arrests-nearly-200000-migrants-us-mexico-border-august-2021-09-15 arrested more than 195,000 immigrants at the Mexican border in August. According to government data released on Wednesday.

Ernesto, a 31-year-old immigrant from Haitian, returned to Mexico on Thursday to buy water and food — for the fourth time, he said, since arriving in the United States Monday morning. Ernesto, who declined to reveal his surname to protect his identity, said he and his 3-year-old daughter were not fed at the camp, where migrants compete for shade.

He said he sometimes rushes to avoid Mexican immigration officials, but he usually doesn’t bother them. “But the money is running out now,” he added.

Immigrants showed Reuters their tickets with numbers they received from the US Border Patrol. Several said other migrants told them they could be stuck in the camp for up to five days.

The Border Patrol said in a statement it is increasing the number of staff in Del Rio to facilitate a “safe, humane and orderly operation.” The statement added that drinking water, towels and portable toilets have been provided, while the migrants are waiting to be transported to the facilities.

Biden, the Democrat who took office in January, has rolled back many of the tough immigration measures of his Republican predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

But he is caught between pro-immigrant groups and some Democrats who have criticized him for not doing more to help immigrants, 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 of this sprawling, bilingual border city say they feel abandoned by the federal government on border security.

“Are they doing anything to stop them from coming?” A woman said while looking at the camp as she drove over the bridge.

‘When will we leave?’

Carlos, the 27-year-old Venezuelan, who said he left home after graduating from university in July, said he believes the camp has doubled in size since he arrived on Tuesday. Carlos, who declined to give his full name, said he had only $10 left, and that he had 400 families queued up for processing.

Migrants and Mexican officials said the number of people is expected to increase in the coming days. Some told Reuters they chose to cross here because the river is shallow and felt that there was relatively less gang activity.

Jeff John, a 27-year-old Haitian who was reselling water bottles for a profit of 3 pesos (15 cents), said he and his young family were exhausted and hungry and slept on the floor. He worried that his children would fall ill in the makeshift camp.

My ten year old son asks: ‘When are we leaving?’ He always asks for it.”