As Haitian migrants disembarked from a white US Border Patrol van in the Texas border town of Del Rio after learning they would be allowed to stay in the country for the time being, a man in a neon yellow vest stood nearby and discreetly watched them.

Some carried sleeping babies and a toddler walked behind his mother wrapped in a silver heated blanket. As they passed for treatment by a local non-profit organization that provides migrants with basic necessities and helps them reunite with their families in the United States, many smiled – happy to begin a new leg of their journey. after a chaotic period in an overcrowded camp near a border bridge that connects Del Rio to Ciudad Acuna, Mexico.

Dave, who didn’t want to share his last name because he feared backlash for trying to help people who entered the United States illegally, didn’t see his friend Ruth in this group. But he was wearing the shiny safety vest so she could spot him in the crowd when she arrived with her husband and 3-year-old daughter.

“I feel like my friend is worth it for me to come and help me,” he told The Associated Press on Friday.

Dave left his hometown of Toledo, Ohio on Tuesday and drove nearly 2,092 kilometers to Del Rio, where up to 15,000 migrants suddenly arrived from Mexico this month, for most Haitians and many asylum seekers.

The 64-year-old met Ruth over ten years ago while on a Christian mission in Haiti. Over the years, Dave would send money to Ruth for a little girl he met in an orphanage and whom he had vowed to support. Ruth always made sure the girl had what she needed.

Last month, Ruth and her family left South America, where they briefly lived after leaving their impoverished Caribbean homeland, to attempt to make their way to the United States. Dave told her he would be there when they arrived to drive them to his sister’s house in Ohio.

“I just see it as an opportunity to serve someone,” he said. “We have so much.”
The nonprofit, the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, has received dozens of deposits from U.S. Border Patrol agents since the sudden influx of migrants in Del Rio became the most pressing immigration challenge from the country. Its director of operations, Tiffany Burrow, said the group treated more than 1,600 Haitian migrants from Monday to when the camp was completely emptied on Friday, helping them move and resettle.

This is nothing new for Burrow, who has seen Haitian migrants enter Del Rio in smaller numbers since January. But this recent wave has overwhelmed his small group.

“It’s a different volume. And the eyes of the world are on us this time,” Burrow told the AP.

As Dave waited for the next bus to arrive on Friday, he propped up a child seat in the backseat of his vehicle. It was for Ruth’s toddler and it was the first thing he spotted when he stopped at a thrift store on his way out of Toledo. He took it as a small sign that he was doing the right thing.

Ruth and her family had spent the last week at Bridge Camp and Dave was communicating with her via WhatsApp. But all communication ended around noon Thursday, and he said Ruth’s sister in Ohio hadn’t heard from him either.

Still, Dave waited, scrolling through a list of “what ifs”. He wondered aloud if her phone was dead or if she was in a border patrol facility with strict rules on electronic devices. “I trust my phone a lot,” he laughed.

Like Dave, Dr. Pierre Moreau made the trip to Del Rio from Miami to help. A Haitian immigrant himself and a veteran of the US Navy, he saw the footage unfold from the camp and booked a flight.

“It was devastating. My heart was crying,” said Moreau. “And I told my wife I was coming. And she said go.”

Moreau had no plan – just a rental car full of toiletries and supplies he hoped to distribute to any migrants he encountered.

“I am concerned about my siblings. And I was concerned about the way they were treated,” he said.

Dave said he hates how politicized the border issue has become. He considers himself a supporter of former President Donald Trump but says he’s more complicated than a single label.

As he waited in his car, Dave spoke about how hard Ruth had worked as a nurse to get to the United States – a dream she had held for over a decade. He said he knew she would do the same in the United States and all he did was give her and her little family a helping hand.

“I am helping them in their first step,” said Dave. “And like a little child, the next time you see them they will run.”

Whenever a Border Patrol bus or van stopped at the Coalition, Dave and his yellow vest would cross the street. He waited while each migrant came out, hoping to see Ruth, and he even rushed to a woman thinking it was her. “It sounded like Ruth’s voice,” he said.

As news broke on Friday that the camp had been emptied, Dave was still hopeful that she would arrive. But 10 hours after arriving, the coalition announced that it had received its last bus and that no more migrants would arrive from the camp.
That wave, at least for now, was over for Del Rio. But Burrow said there would likely be more.

“Right now we are in a cycle,” she said. “We are learning to work with it.”
Dave got up from his folding chair and started walking towards his car. He still hadn’t heard from Ruth and he speculated again about where she and her family might be, including that they might have been sent on a deportation flight to Haiti.

He looked defeated but said he had no plans to return to Ohio until he heard from Ruth – not until he knew his friend was okay.

“I cringe when I hear the beep that it will be the wrong message,” Dave said. “But I’m trying to keep my hopes up. I don’t know what else I can do.”

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