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US launches mass expulsion of Haitian migrants

DEL RIO, Texas — The U.S. flew Haitians camped in a Texas border town back to their homeland Sunday and tried blocking others from crossing the border from Mexico in a massive show of force that signaled the beginning of what could be one of America's swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants or refugees in decades.

More than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince on three flights, and Haiti said six flights were expected Tuesday. In all, U.S. authorities moved to expel many of the more 12,000 migrants camped around a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after crossing from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.

The only obvious parallel for such an expulsion without an opportunity to seek asylum was in 1992 when the Coast Guard intercepted Haitian refugees at sea, said Yael Schacher, senior U.S. advocate at Refugees International whose doctoral studies focused on the history of U.S. asylum law.

Similarly large numbers of Mexicans have been sent home during peak years of immigration but over land and not so suddenly.

Central Americans have also crossed the border in comparable numbers without being subject to mass expulsion, although Mexico has agreed to accept them from the U.S. under pandemic-related authority in effect since March 2020. Mexico does not accept expelled Haitians or people of other nationalities outside of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

When the border was closed Sunday, the migrants initially found other ways to cross nearby until they were confronted by federal and state law enforcement. An Associated Press reporter saw Haitian immigrants still crossing the river into the U.S. about 1.5 miles east of the previous spot, but they were eventually stopped by Border Patrol agents on horseback and Texas law enforcement officials.

As they crossed, some Haitians carried boxes on their heads filled with food. Some removed their pants before getting into the river and carried them. Others were unconcerned about getting wet.

Agents yelled at the migrants who were crossing in the waist-deep river to get out of the water. The several hundred who had successfully crossed and were sitting along the river bank on the U.S. side were ordered to the Del Rio camp. “Go now,” agents yelled. Mexican authorities in an airboat told others trying to cross to go back into Mexico.

Migrant Charlie Jean had crossed back into Ciudad Acuña from the camps to get food for his wife and three daughters, ages 2, 5 and 12. He was waiting on the Mexican side for a restaurant to bring him an order of rice.

“We need food for every day. I can go without, but my kids can’t,” said Jean, who had been living in Chile for five years before beginning the trek north to the U.S. It was unknown if he made it back across and to the camp.

Mexico said Sunday it would also begin deporting Haitians to their homeland. A government official said the flights would be from towns near the U.S. border and the border with Guatemala, where the largest group remains.

Haitians have been migrating to the U.S. in large numbers from South America for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating 2010 earthquake. After jobs dried up from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, many made the dangerous trek by foot, bus and car to the U.S. border, including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.

Some of the migrants at the Del Rio camp said the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse make them afraid to return to a country that seems more unstable than when they left.

“In Haiti, there is no security,” said Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian who arrived in Texas with his wife and two daughters. “The country is in a political crisis.”

Since Friday, 3,300 migrants have already been removed from the Del Rio camp to planes or detention centers, Border Patrol Chief Raul L. Ortiz said Sunday. He expected to have 3,000 of the approximately 12,600 remaining migrants moved within a day, and aimed for the rest to be gone within the week.

“We are working around the clock to expeditiously move migrants out of the heat, elements and from underneath this bridge to our processing facilities in order to quickly process and remove individuals from the United States consistent with our laws and our policies,” Ortiz said at news conference at the Del Rio bridge. The Texas city of about 35,000 people sits roughly 145 miles west of San Antonio.

The U.S. expected to double daily flights soon to at least six, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Departure cities were still being determined Sunday.

Six flights were scheduled in Haiti on Tuesday — three in Port-au-Prince and three in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, said Jean Négot Bonheur Delva, Haiti's migration director.

The rapid expulsions were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by former President Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows for migrants to be immediately removed from the country without an opportunity to seek asylum. President Joe Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the order but let the rest stand.

Any Haitians not expelled are subject to immigration laws, which include rights to seek asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. Families are quickly released in the U.S. because the government cannot generally hold children.

Some people arriving on the first flight covered their heads as they walked into a large bus parked next to the plane. Dozens lined up to receive a plate of rice, beans, chicken and plantains as they wondered where they would sleep and how they would make money to support their families.

All were given $100 and tested for COVID-19, though authorities were not planning to put them into quarantine, said Marie-Lourde Jean-Charles with the Office of National Migration.

WATCH NOW: North High School Marching Band prepares for Starfest

SIOUX CITY -- At 6:45 a.m. most weekday mornings, band director Kamal Talukder gets to see the sun rise from the field at North High School.

"It's always a beautiful thing to experience," he said, noting that he and all of the members of the North High School Marching Band are busy practicing music long before classes begin.

"The students get here early," Talukder explained. "They have to really commit to be in band."

North's band will be hosting the 23nd annual Starfest marching band competition, beginning at noon Saturday, at Elwood Olsen Stadium, 3201 Peters Ave., on the campus of Morningside University.

Fourteen regional marching bands, some from as far away as Sioux Falls, will be competing in such categories as music performance, music general effect and marching execution.

Percussion and color guard will also be judged in separate categories.

"It will be great for my students to see what other schools are doing," Talukder said. "There are things we do that may be different than other schools. Plus there may be things we'll need to work on."

Talukder noted that the band members are simply happy that Starfest is going on at all.

"We couldn't have the competition last year due to COVID-19," he explained. "Our kids missed out on all of that."

Plus this year, freshmen and sophomore musicians will get to experience Starfest for the first time.

But at Starfest, everything is a group effort.

"The students are involved in every aspects of Starfest and so are our parent volunteers," Talukder said.

This is because the competition is, literally, an all-day event. Competitions will be taking place throughout the day, with the final contests slated to begin at 6:30 p.m. 

Starfest will conclude with an award competition at 9:30 p.m.

All of the hard work is beneficial for students, Talukder said.

"They are developing a work ethic, acquiring time management skills while gaining self-confidence," he explained. "All of this will come in handy, no matter what they do in the future."

More than that, the students are making memories that will last a lifetime.

"The experiences and the friendship made in band will stick with them forever," Talukder said. 

Sioux City Council to vote on $200,000 contribution to Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Updated

SIOUX CITY -- The Sioux City Council will be asked Monday to approve a letter of understanding to authorize payments totaling $200,000 to the  Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau so that the bureau can continue to recruit new events and promote Sioux City as a destination for tourists, conventions and sporting events.

If the council votes in favor of the proposed resolution, the city will make two $100,000 payments to the Sioux City Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCRCVB) on Oct. 1 of 2021 and 2022. 


Andrew Nilges, SCRCVB board president, told the Journal Friday that's he's "optimistic" about the bureau's future. 

"We're a new organization, so there's been a lot to tackle. I'm optimistic in the direction that we're heading in," he said. "I would anticipate that we'll continue to build the organization, continue to have success in bringing events to the Sioux City and the Siouxland area." 

Nilges said Kristi Franz began working as executive director of the SCRCVB roughly a month ago. The bureau announced its first hire, Ron Bower, in late January. However, Nilges said Bower, who was recruited from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to serve as destination manager for tourism, "resigned a number of months ago."

"At some point in the future, to get a second person and continue growing the staff is something that is on our radar. I wouldn't say that it's going to happen immediately, but hopefully in the not-so-distant future we'll be able to do that," Nilges said. 

Under the terms of the agreement with the city, the SCRCVB will present an annual budget to member cities and stakeholders with a public relations plan, which promotes Sioux City and participating members and recruits new events to Sioux City.

The bureau will also continue to build a membership base by recruiting more hoteliers and businesses as stakeholders, maintain a website and social media presence, and update listings of all restaurants, retail and entertainment establishments and events.

Other duties include distributing press releases and promoting a calendar of events to statewide media outlets; assuming all CVB responsibilities from the city, such as applying for applicable tourism grants; funding membership and actively participating in regional and state tourism associations and programs; and keeping the council and city staff up to date on the latest happenings surrounding the operation on at least a bi-annual basis. 

Local leaders refocused their tourism efforts after Sioux City eliminated the city department that oversaw not only tourism, but also the Tyson Events Center and the Convention Center. The change occurred after the city hired Spectra, a Philadelphia-based venue management firm, to run the Tyson three years ago. The Convention & Visitors Bureau Board manages the new CVB, while the Events Facilities Advisory Board continues to oversee the city-owned venues.

In August 2020, the Sioux City Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding to authorize quarterly $25,000 contributions to the SCRCVB for one year.

The SCRCVB is primarily funded through a 1.65% lodging fee paid by guests at hotels in Sioux City, South Sioux City, North Sioux City and Dakota Dunes that have opted in. The fee is in addition to the 7% hotel/motel tax collected on all rooms in Sioux City. Half of that 7% tax is currently earmarked for tourism purposes, while the other half goes to the city's general fund.

According to city documents, the SCRCVB's total income for Fiscal Year 2022 is $366,000. The room fee accounts for $216,000 of total income, while city partnerships contribute $135,000, membership/marketing $10,000, and donations, grants etc. $5,000. The SCRCVB's total expenses match its income. The bulk of its $366,000 income is allocated toward staff, $160,650, and sales expenses, $92,000.

Democrats push to retool health care for millions

WASHINGTON — Dental work for seniors on Medicare. An end to sky's-the-limit pricing on prescription drugs. New options for long-term care at home. Coverage for low-income people locked out of Medicaid by ideological battles.

Those are just some of the changes to health care that Democrats want to achieve with President Joe Biden's massive "Build Back Better" plan. The $3.5 trillion domestic agenda bill touches almost all aspects of American life, from taxes to climate change, but the health care components are a cornerstone for Democrats, amplified during the COVID-19 crisis.

For the nearly 145 million Americans covered by government health programs, along with their families and communities, the investment in the nation's services could make a difference in the quality of life for decades.

"It's a holistic look at how health care can be not just expanded, but better directed to the needs that people actually have," Kathleen Sebelius, federal health secretary under President Barack Obama, said of the Biden bill. "You've got a plan that's really aimed at the serious gaps in health care that are still causing people to either go totally uninsured, or run out of money in the course of their treatments."

But Democrats can only succeed if they bridge divisions among themselves. Don't look for Republicans to help.

With Medicare's long-term finances under a cloud, Republicans say now is not the time to add new benefits. They are planning to oppose not just the health care provisions, but the entire Biden package, voting lockstep against it as too big, costly and a slide toward "socialism."

Mindful of the politics ahead, Democrats are assembling the package with their slim hold on Congress. Instead of launching new experiments that many progressives prefer, they have chosen to plow more resources into existing programs, from Medicare and Medicaid enacted during the Great Society to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

It's a compromise, of sorts, led by Biden's approach, paid for by taxes on corporations and the wealthy, those earning more than $400,000, as well as savings on prescription drug prices paid by the government to the pharmaceutical companies.

"I've said many times before: I believe we're at an inflection point in this country -- one of those moments where the decisions we're about to make can change -- literally change — the trajectory of our nation for years and possibly decades to come," Biden said in remarks last week at the White House.

Polling has shown that core health care provisions appeal to voters across political lines. Many Republican voters, for example, generally approve of Medicare negotiating prescription drug prices, even if GOP lawmakers do not. While the Obama health law focused mainly on helping uninsured working-age people and their families, Biden's coda puts a big emphasis on older people, who also happen to be reliable midterm election voters.

Major health care provisions in the mix include authorizing Medicare to negotiate prices for the costliest drugs, including insulin. Private insurers and employer plans could then access those lower prices. Annual price increases for established drugs would be limited. Seniors' out-of-pocket costs would be capped. A RAND Corporation study finds such an approach could cut U.S. spending on top drugs by half.

Sharp opposition from the big pharmaceutical companies and key business industry groups have left Democrats divided over the structure of the program.

Four House Democrats opposed the measure during committee votes last week, enough to tank the entire bill. In the past, they had supported giving Medicare authority to negotiate, but they are expressing a range of concerns about the scope of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plan. The Senate could take a somewhat different approach.

Medicare negotiating authority is the linchpin of the health care package because expected savings would be used to provide new benefits.

The proposal also includes expanding Medicare to cover dental care, vision, and hearing aids for seniors. This provision, championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has been a long time coming. Vision care would begin the latter part of next year and hearing aids in 2023, but in an apparent concession to costs, dental coverage would not start until 2028.

Biden also wants to build on Obama health law. The idea is to provide health insurance to more than 2 million low-income people in GOP-led states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion of "Obamacare." The workaround is a top health equity demand for Black lawmakers because many of those caught in the coverage gap are minorities in Southern states.

Biden's plan also calls for making health insurance more affordable for people who buy their own policies by extending a subsidy boost for Obama's health law. 

The president wants to promote a shift to long-term care in the patient's own home as opposed to nursing facilities, which turned into incubators for the coronavirus as the pandemic spread. Biden had wanted $400 billion for this initiative under Medicaid, but it looks like Congress will give him about half that.

Plans also include permanently funding the politically popular Children's Health Insurance Program so it's not subject to recurring votes in Congress that could disrupt services.

With key centrist Democrats saying the overall $3.5 trillion price tag is too high, Democrats are looking for ways to cut costs, either by eliminating some programs or, more likely, shaving some costs or duration off what has been proposed.

Other Democrats, though, warned that a slimmer package might disappoint voters who sent them to Washington.

"My constituents are expecting me to deliver, and I'm committed to doing it," said Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., whose professional background is in health care policy.