Thousands of Haitian Migrants Expected in Southern California

  • Posted on: 22 September 2016
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

According to NBC San Diego, more than 7,000 Haitian migrants are expected to attempt crossing into Southern California in the coming months.  Immigrant groups and faith organizations in both Mexico and Southern California are doing what they can to assist.  The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) states that in the last 10 months, over 3,500 Haitians have crossed through ports of entry in San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, Tecate, Calexico East and West and Andrade.  The CBP observes hundreds have gathered at five shelters in Tijuana, waiting to cross at San Ysidro.  Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald writes that “In fiscal year 2015, the CBP only apprehended 339 Haitians at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the world’s busiest border crossing…but that number jumped sharply from Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 4, with officials processing more than 5,000 Haitians at the California entry point, overwhelming the facility, which is undergoing construction.” 

The U.S Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a warning to Haitian migrants that they will be deported if they attempt to enter the United States.  As of Thursday, September 22nd, any Haitian migrants arriving at the border without visas will be subject to expedited removal proceedings. Most migrants are fleeing the absence of economic opportunities which would mean they do not have valid grounds for refugee status.  However, it is important that migrants be treated humanely and that asylum law continue to apply.  DHS reports that any migrant who feared returning to Haiti because of the threat of persecution or torture will be interviewed to determine whether that fear was credible.  If an immigration officer determined that it was, the immigrant could apply for asylum.  Another complication is the extent to which the Haitian government has the capacity and the political will to receive and assist migrants who are deported.  This is important as deportations require cooperation with the receiving government. Charles notes deportations come at a politically challenging time for Haiti as it prepares to re-do controversial first-round presidential elections on October 9th. Elections in Haiti are rarely without complications.

The full statement by the DHS Secretary can be found here.  Please share your thoughts on this policy change in the comments section below. 



September 23, 2016

By Jean Guerrero (KPBS)

Footsteps from the U.S.-Mexico border, Janeth Aguilar sat on the trash-strewn, dirt-browned sidewalk of Tijuana, exchanging kisses with two Haitian children. “I love them, they love me,” she said. She pulled oatmeal bars from her purse and gave them to the children. “We come to give them a happy moment,” she said. “Since they lack everything, we want to make sure they don’t lack a smile.” Aguilar, a 36-year-old Mexican woman, is one of a rising number of Tijuana residents responding with unusual hospitality to a surge of Haitians and Africans on their way to the U.S. They bring clothes, snacks, sports drinks. They prepare full meals. They pick the travelers up off the streets where they sleep, offering beds in their houses. A backlog at the ports of entry means thousands are stuck in limbo in Tijuana, waiting to speak to a U.S. immigration official. This week, the U.S. government announced it was going to start sending many of the Haitian newcomers back to Haiti. Others who come from various African countries, fleeing terrorist groups, will be processed as usual.

Since the influx started in May, thousands of Haitians have entered the U.S. with a notice to appear in immigration court, thanks to protections they received after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Not anymore. Now, Haitians who present themselves at the ports of entry will be placed in detention centers and sent home unless they prove they fear returning. But tens of thousands are still on their way, journeying north through the jungles and mountains of Latin America, battling hunger, dodging criminal groups, enduring exploitation. Some are raped. Others are killed – all with the hope of making it to the U.S. They come from Brazil, where thousands had moved after the earthquake. Most planned to cross through the San Ysidro Port of Entry, then fly to Florida, where some of their relatives live. What they will do now remains to be seen. In the meantime, Tijuana residents are taking care of those who have come.

Aguilar remembers the first time she saw the large crowds of Haitians and Africans on the streets of Tijuana. It was unusual – less than one percent of Mexico’s population is black, and the north is even whiter than the rest. She went online to find out what was happening. She learned the migrants were coming from countries with political and economic crises. She wanted to help. “They’re really lovely people who need our help during their difficult situation,” Aguilar said. “We come every day. We bring them candy, food, we’re with them a little while. Yesterday, they braided my whole head of hair.” How does she communicate with them, since she doesn’t speak French or Creole or Portuguese? “Just with smiles and hand gestures, they give me a kiss or sit in my lap,” Aguilar explained.

Tijuana, as a border city, has a long history with migrants en route to the U.S. – mostly from southern Mexico and Central America. Those migrants, including those deported from the U.S., are often shunned by the locals, forced to live out of sight, in sewers. Last year, the Tijuana mayor ordered the removal of hundreds of those migrants off the streets, locking them away in controversial drug rehabilitation centers, including those who weren’t using drugs. Tijuana residents interviewed by KPBS expressed relief, saying the migrants had become an eyesore. In stark contrast, Mexican officials have been receiving the Haitians and Africans with open arms, offering documents that give them formal permission to be in the country while they wait their turn to appear before U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

On a recent Monday, Tijuana residents set up a table on the street in front of Desayunador Salesiano, Tijuana’s largest migrant shelter, where hundreds of the Haitians and Africans sleep.
Migrants who come from southern Mexico or Central America are often shunned in Tijuana, The residents handed out plates of fried chicken, rice and beans. Some of the southern Mexican and Central American migrants who also live on the street squeezed into the lines for food. Jorge Cruz, a 39-year-old Tijuana taxi driver who brought the chicken, was not happy about that. He confronted one of them. “I told him, you’re Mexican, what do you lack?” he said.

Some of the Mexican and Central American migrants are also fleeing dire circumstances such as persecution and hunger. But locals have an easier time perceiving the Haitian and African migrants as needing their help. Cruz said the Haitians and Africans inspire him. “Even in their situation, they’re happy,” he said. “They smile.”At first, Tijuana residents brought the Haitians and Africans things like tacos and burritos – Mexican food. But they didn’t like it. The residents investigated, and learned that the visitors preferred simple things like chicken and rice. They brought that instead. “We just found out that they like whole beans, not crushed beans,” said Jose Luis Aguilar, who set up the table with funds from his church, Nueva Generación de Jesus.The next morning, the dining room at the migrant shelter across the street, Desayunador Salesiano, was empty of Haitians and Africans. They weren’t interested in the shelter’s chilaquiles, a staple Mexican breakfast – they had other options outside.

Margarita Andonaegui, a coordinator at the shelter, said Desayunador Salesiano has been struggling to feed and house thousands of Haitian and African migrants. Her shelter is one of five in Tijuana that have been addressing the surge, funded by donations. “We feel suffocated,” she said. But Andonaegui said generous residents are actually making the situation worse. “This is turning into chaos, into an alarming crisis,” she said.

All the charity has created a sort of party atmosphere in the street, she said. People leave trash everywhere. Migrants fail to come into the shelter for planned community activities such as silent films and educational workshops. Their children get sick from all the sugar and candy. Haitians and Africans are mixing with homeless Mexicans who use drugs, she said. “They’re addicts who take advantage of the situation, and they say, ‘my Haitian friend, I love you, smoke this, drink this,’” she said. She said previously well-behaved Haitians and Africans are showing up under the influence. The shelter won’t let them in. Andonaegui said she’s also worried about all the drivers who keep stopping to pick up the migrants, offering temporary housing and in some cases jobs. She took a picture of one truck as it passed. The bed of the truck carried about a dozen of them. “Where did it take them? What was the purpose of taking them? They don’t know what problem they’re getting into,” she said. The shelters are working with immigration officials to slowly funnel the migrants to the ports of entry. Once in San Diego, the United Methodist Christ Ministry Center was giving them temporary shelter on their way to Florida. But now that the U.S. has decided to start sending Haitian newcomers back to Haiti, everything is going to change, Andonaegui said.

Many of the Haitians may decide not to cross into the U.S. at all – because they don’t want to go back to Haiti, where the economic situation is even more dire than in Brazil, where they were living before coming to the U.S. border. “If you’re going to cross into a country where they’re going to take you to where you don’t want to go, which is Haiti, then you’re going to find an alternative,” she said. In this case, she said, the alternative could be Tijuana.



Miami Herald


Jocelyn Benoit wants to go home. He just can’t. Benoit is one of thousands of Haitians stuck in Brazil, where many headed after the island’s 2010 earthquake. They withstood arduous journeys across Andean high plains and Amazonian jungles to reach Brazil — only to find themselves a few years later in a worse economic situation than the one they fled. Now many are weighing an equally perilous exit, to other Latin American countries or even the U.S. Benoit, 32, arrived in 2014, lured by what seemed a promising future. Brazil was hosting soccer’s World Cup that year and in two more would host the Olympics in Rio. Work would be plentiful, he assumed. “I got here in 2014, things were better. In 2015, things started to go down,” Benoit said.  Brazil is now mired in its worst economic downturn since it returned to democratic rule in 1985. Haitians, always at the bottom rung of the economic ladder, have seen their work disappear. “I am unemployed. Everyone is unemployed,” Benoit said, interviewed at an evangelical church in the sprawling urban slum of Jacarepagua in northwest Rio de Janeiro.

Originally, he landed a job in construction as he’d hoped. But then he became ill with tuberculosis, requiring seven months of treatment before he was better.“I am good to work, but I can’t find any,” said Benoit, who has a wife and two young daughters back in Haiti. “I want to see my family. I have no way to earn money for airfare to go see them. I am praying to God for help.” Other Haitians, like LaPhontan Papayer, a fellow parishioner at the Assembly of the City, say they spent a life savings just to get to Brazil. Now, with little to show for the difficult trip through Ecuador to Peru and the Amazon, they are despondent. Papayer, 40 and unemployed since April, is desperate to find work so he can send money home to his wife and five children in Haiti: “The Brazilian people are marvelous … but because of economic problems, everything is expensive, there is not enough work, so many Haitians are really suffering here.”

Brazil grants 2,000 visas a month to Haitians seeking to relocate. Even with the economic downturn, Brazil remains open to Haitians, though many are leaving. “If we decide to receive them in Brazil, it's not up to us to tell them, ‘Look don't go to Brazil because conditions are not ideal.’ We cannot say that. It's up to them to decide,” Fernando Vidal, Brazil’s ambassador to Haiti, recently told McClatchy in Haiti. The number of Haitians arriving today in Brazil through the informal routes has slowed to a trickle. A refuge in the state of Acre has closed. The flow of humanity now goes in the other direction. “About 35 percent have left, many are still leaving and many are preparing,” said Fedo Bacourt, a Haitian immigrant and history professor who founded the Social Union of Haitian Immigrants (USIH), a group in Sao Paulo that provides social services to immigrants across Brazil. “Life here is very, very hard... You can count on your hands the number of migrants who are working.” Many Haitians, lacking solid Portuguese and unaccustomed to Brazil’s ways, fall prey to predatory employers, said Bacourt, including some who engage in what Brazilian law calls “conditions analogous to slavery.” These Haitian workers aren’t paid, or they’re fed and housed but charged more than they earn.  Haitians are leaving Brazil for places that might offer new opportunity. Many try Chile. Others make the longer journey to Costa Rica.

Valéry Numa, a Haitian journalist and radio personality who premiered his documentary Destination Brésil — or Destination Brazil — to a packed audience in August in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince said he didn't fully understand the level of suffering in Brazil until he visited for his documentary. “It was a shock for me when I realized that there were Haitians who were sleeping underneath bridges,” he said. “Another shock was the realization that there were Haitians who have been in Brazil for three years and not working. They aren't doing anything to make ends meet. They survive at the mercy of churches.” Between 2014 and 2015, some 40,000 Haitians left Brazil for Chile, Numa estimates, but Chile is simply another step, “a place for them to do some kind of standby to [eventually] enter the United States.”

One of the few avenues of help for Haitians in Brazil is the non-profit group Viva Rio, with offices in both countries. The group — through its Haiti Aqui project — help Haitians in Brazil with training, job tips and an online radio program in Creole. The idea, said Rubem Fernandes, Viva Rio’s director and a noted anthropologist, is to help them “assimilate without losing their culture.” But Brazil hasn’t turned out to be the answer for the Haitians who can no longer make a living. “A Haitian here can’t live without training. You will earn little and we need to earn more [to send home],” said Liger Ernest, a young Haitian in the church band. “There are lots of Haitians who are drowning in the seas, in the rivers. We need another place to live.” Franco Ordonez in the Washingon bureau and Jaqueline Charles of the Miami Herald contributed to this report.

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision last week to resume deportations of noncriminal Haitian, disingenuously citing improved conditions despite political and economic turmoil and an unchecked cholera epidemic, is inhumane, ill-advised and shocking to the Haitian-American community. It may rip families apart and curtail life-saving remittances to Haiti.  DHS should immediately reverse it. It evokes another administration failure that any presidential candidate seeking Haitian-American votes should address. That is DHS’ failure to significantly expand the Haitian Family Reunification Program (HFRP), announced in October 2014 as a way to promote orderly outflow and to help Haiti recover by generating additional remittances. We fought nearly five years for its creation. What was created was so arbitrarily limited that as of June 30, only 1,952 HFRP beneficiaries had been approved, mocking administration goals and promises. In contrast, more than 100,000 have arrived under DHS’s excellent and recently reinstated Cuban Family Reunification Program.

Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake led to bipartisan calls to create the HFRP to more quickly bring in beneficiaries on wait lists of up to 13 years whom DHS already had approved. We said that it would decrease desperation, save lives, expeditiously reunite families and speed recovery in Haiti at little or no cost to the U.S. taxpayer by generating a significant additional flow of remittances back home. But eligibility was arbitrarily and inexplicably limited to petitioners whose beneficiaries were within two years of getting their visas anyway. Of about 100,000 on the approved wait list, DHS thought it would interview 5,000 persons per year; but as of June 30, 2016, although beneficiaries three years out are now eligible, fewer than 2,000 had been approved. This is senseless. Thousands of approved beneficiaries further back on the wait list could be working and sending desperately needed remittances back home. That was the goal in creating the program. Why can the United States properly and generously bring in more than 100,000 Cubans but only a handful of black Haitians?

The eligibility restriction is also a financial “double whammy”: In addition to HFRP’s significant application fees and related costs, each beneficiary also has to pay a hefty $1,070 fee to “adjust their status” to legal permanent residence once their visa becomes available, i.e. within three years or less. This has made HFRP prohibitively expensive for many. But if a beneficiary six years out on the wait list, for example, were eligible under HFRP, he or she could be earning and saving and would be much more able to afford the $1,070 adjustment fee in the sixth year. (Cubans avoid paying the adjustment fee altogether under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, a significant advantage.)

The Obama administration has failed the Haitian community in at least two important ways. DHS’ recent resumption of Haiti removals, claiming improved conditions, is wrong and tone-deaf. And its much-heralded Haitian Family Reunification Program needs to be expanded to include every DHS-approved beneficiary on the wait list. Any presidential candidate who wants the votes of Haitian Americans in November should promise to immediately reinstate the halt of deportations to Haiti and to broadly expand the Haitian Family Reunification Program, now a mere shadow of its Cuban namesake. Fairness, the community’s trust and Haitian lives and families are at stake.

Marleine Bastien is executive director of Haitian Women of Miami. Steven Forester is immigration policy coordinator for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

Read more here:

New York Times


by Kirk Semple

MEXICO CITY — A sudden shift in American immigration policy has divided scores of Haitian families trying to enter the United States from Mexico, immigrants and advocates say. The policy change, announced last week, has separated wives from husbands and children from their fathers, stranding the men in Mexico after their families were allowed to cross into the United States. “I’m hoping God makes miracles,” said Sandra Alexandre, who was allowed into the United States last week ahead of her boyfriend and gave birth three days later. The new policy went into effect right before the child’s father could cross. The family separations appear to be an unintended consequence of the Obama administration’s effort to tighten the border against the arrival of thousands of Haitians streaming north from Brazil, mostly to seek employment in the United States.

Until the change, the United States had been allowing Haitians without visas to enter under a temporary humanitarian parole, a special concession owing to the social, economic and political troubles facing Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. But on Sept. 22, amid a surge in Haitians from Brazil, the Obama administration said it was resuming the deportation of Haitians who presented themselves at border crossings without immigration documentation. The policy change effectively shut the door on newly arriving undocumented Haitians, including men whose partners and children had already been admitted. Immigrant advocates in San Diego said they had identified more than 50 families in that city alone who had been separated by the policy change, and they have appealed to Homeland Security officials to help reunite the families in the United States. “The bottom line is that this was not a well-conceived policy,” said Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, a group that has been helping Haitians who have arrived from Brazil in recent months. “It seemed to have come down from one day to the next without a clear understanding of what was going on and what kind of impact it would have.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately reply to written questions about the effect of the policy change. Amid the surge, the American border authorities had been using an appointment system to process arriving Haitians. They had been giving priority to women and children, who received earlier dates rather than being forced to spend weeks in the overcrowded shelters. Men, no matter if they were traveling with their partners and children, usually had to wait for later appointments.

Ms. Alexandre, 24, arrived in the border city of Mexicali with her boyfriend, Volcy Dieumercy, 29, on Sept. 20 after a 10-week trip from Curitiba, Brazil. She was pregnant and nearing her due date. Because of her pregnancy, Mexican officials, who have been scheduling the migrants’ appointments with American border officials, granted Ms. Alexandre an appointment for last Thursday, but they denied the couple’s request that Mr. Dieumercy be processed on the same day, the couple said. Instead, he was given an appointment for Sept. 30, forcing him to wait in Mexicali.

Volcy Dieumercy, the father of Ms. Alexandre’s baby, outside a shelter in Mexicali, Mexico, on Wednesday. He has not been allowed to enter the United States. Credit Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times. Ms. Alexandre entered under a three-year humanitarian parole, and she made her way to a migrant shelter in San Diego. She soon learned that Mr. Dieumercy had been barred from entering under the new policy. On Sunday, she went into labor and was admitted to the hospital. A volunteer working with Alliance San Diego called Mr. Dieumercy so the couple could speak. The volunteer remained in touch with Mr. Dieumercy throughout the birth using WhatsApp, updating him on Ms. Alexandre’s progress.

The couple had intended to travel together to Orlando, Fla., and live with Mr. Dieumercy’s relatives. Ms. Alexandre said she had no idea what she would do if Mr. Dieumercy was not allowed into the country. “I haven’t thought that far ahead,” she said from the hospital earlier this week before being discharged. “Right now, I’m only thinking positively.” Mr. Dieumercy is equally uncertain. He knows that if he tries to cross at an official American port of entry, he will probably be deported. “I need my family,” he said in a text message from Mexicali. “I can’t wait any longer. I’m very sad.” Among the families that have been divided since the policy took effect, more than a dozen include pregnant women separated from their partners, Ms. Guerrero said. There are even cases of mothers’ being separated from their teenage sons, she said.

Sinskya Cetoute, a Haitian immigrant, said that she, her husband and their 4-year-old daughter had gone to the San Ysidro border crossing between Tijuana and San Diego last Friday, a day after the new policy went into effect. Immigration officials quickly separated them, with Ms. Cetoute, 33, and her daughter taken in one direction and her husband in another. Ms. Cetoute and her daughter were allowed into the United States on humanitarian parole, with permission to stay for three years, but she has not heard from her husband since she last saw him. “We don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said. “I can’t live without the father of my daughter.”

In announcing the policy change last week, American immigration officials said they hoped it would discourage Haitians from making the grueling trek to the United States border. But shelter administrators and migrant advocates along the route report that many Haitians continue to move north through the Americas, undeterred by news of the full resumption of deportations in the United States. Marcelo Pisani, the International Organization for Migration’s regional director for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, said that migrants from outside the region were arriving at the Panama-Costa Rica border at an average rate of 90 to 110 per day. He said “a significant percentage” were Haitians. Mr. Pisani said it was “very probable” that with the humanitarian door closed, more Haitians arriving at the United States’ southern border would seek asylum.

In Tijuana, which has received thousands of Haitian migrants this year, a steady stream of Haitians are still arriving each day. Many of them, though aware of the policy change, are presenting themselves at the border only to be put immediately into fast-track deportation proceedings, advocates said. “They believe that the United States will not turn their back on them,” Ms. Guerrero said. “They believe that the United States understands what the situation is in Haiti, and they believe that the United States would never send them back.”

A version of this article appears in print on September 30, 2016, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Haitian Men Cut Off From Families as U.S. Tightens Rules.


CBS News

TIJUANA, MEXICO  A crowd of about 1,000 Haitians shouted and shoved at the door of Mexico’s immigration agency at the U.S. border, which has found itself an unhappy gateway for thousands of would-be migrants in recent months hoping to cross into the United States. They wrapped their arms around the waists of people in front of them to prevent anyone from cutting in line in their desperation for one of just a few dozen slots granted daily with U.S. immigration authorities about a half-mile away.

Several thousand Haitians have traveled to Tijuana in recent months, overflowing migrant shelters and often sleeping outside next to their backpacks on sheets of cardboard, many after traveling 7,000 miles by foot, taxi and bus from Brazil through eight nations to the threshold of the United States. There have been so many that in August, Mexican authorities imposed a system of appointments in order to keep the Haitians away from the flow of other visitors at one of the world’s busiest border crossings. Most of the Haitians appear unaware that the trip, and the desperate scramble at the border, has been in vain.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Sept. 21 began putting Haitians in detention facilities before attempting to send them back to the homeland they fled, a departure from previous practice of freeing them on humanitarian parole. The U.S. softened its posture after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake but now treats them like people from other countries. Many of the Haitians continuing to arrive in Tijuana have said they were unaware of the change, while those who knew about it said turning back was not an option. Brazil opened its doors to the Haitians after the earthquake devastated their impoverished country, but the South American country later developed its own economic problems, recently prompting many to seek work in the United States. Antonio Juneiro, 40, is typical. He lived in Sao Paolo for four years until factory work dried up and he decided to join family in Miami. After spending $4,000 to reach Tijuana, the prospect of a job in the United States was worth the risk of getting deported to Haiti.

In this Oct. 3, 2016 photo, Haitian migrants receive food and drinks from volunteers as they wait in line at a Mexican immigration agency in Tijuana with the hope of gaining an appointment to cross to the U.S. side of the border. Many Haitians arriving at the Mexico-U.S. border are unaware of a new U.S. policy of putting them in deportation proceedings and detaining them while making efforts to fly them home. “When you have money, you have hope. You have health,” Juniero said at the Padre Chava migrant shelter in Tijuana, where he lived for a month while awaiting his appointment at San Diego’s San Ysidro port of entry.

The exodus from Brazil accelerated in May and has shown no sign of slowing. U.S. officials say about 5,000 Haitians showed up at San Ysidro from October 2015 through late last month, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldana said at a recent congressional hearing that officials told her on a trip to Central America that 40,000 more were on their way. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission said this week that an average of 300 Haitians and Africans were crossing Mexico’s southern border daily. On Thursday, Nicaraguan authorities captured smugglers driving two trucks containing 98 migrants from Haiti and a variety of African nations. Authorities said they planned to return them to the border with Costa Rica where hundreds of others are stranded.

With hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Haitian men, women and young children regularly spending the night just outside the busiest United States border crossing, Mexican officials have moved to bring some order to the unruly scene by granting 20-day permits to stay in Mexico while also helping schedule their slots with the Americans on the other side. U.S. Customs and Border Protection can only handle up to about 75 people a day at San Ysidro, and Tijuana authorities were unhappy about large crowds assembled on the Mexican side of the border crossing. So Mexican officials began distributing paper slips with dates to appear at San Ysidro but the documents were often copied. Now, three days a week, officials stamp dates to appear at San Ysidro on 20-day permits that Haitians receive to stay in Mexico. Mexico also extends the 20-day permits to smaller numbers of U.S.-bound immigrants from Ghana, Senegal and other African countries.

One morning last week, 50 people who had dates to enter the U.S. quietly lined up at the border crossing. A Mexican official emerged from his trailer to say there was room for five more and was mobbed by about 100 people looking to cross. The official led the group across a bridge to a U.S. inspector, who directed them through a turnstile to an area inside the U.S. border station for questioning. Once inside the United States, the Haitians cannot be turned back to Mexico. With the previous earthquake-related protections now dropped, they are held in U.S. detention centers pending repatriation.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute in Tijuana on Monday made appointments in the coming weeks for 766 people to enter at San Ysidro, making it one of its busiest days since the influx began. All people in line got a date, with the last ones getting appointments for Nov. 10, stranding them in Tijuana for more than five weeks.  Padre Chava, one of 10 Tijuana shelters that house Haitians, turned away hundreds over the weekend, leading many to sleep outside on cardboard sheets. The shelter accommodated 271 people Saturday, about half of them women - some pregnant - and 34 children. Many slept on floors without mattresses. Shouting matches erupted. “We are exhausted, completely exhausted,” said shelter administrator Margarita Andonaegui. “When we have more than 200 people, we lose control.”

Rosario Lozada, the city’s director of migrant affairs, was exasperated after the latest arrivals raised her estimate of Haitians stuck in Tijuana to 2,000, half of them in shelters and the rest in hotels or on the streets. “We’ve been going nonstop for almost five months, 24 hours a day,” she said. 

It’s early to say if the U.S. policy shift is deterring Haitians from coming, but challenges lie ahead. Haiti took back just 433 deportees in the 2015 fiscal year - before the influx, the recent policy shift and damage inflicted this week by Hurricane Matthew - and it’s unclear how many the impoverished nation is willing or able to absorb. The United States has a limited number of beds at its immigration detention facilities to accommodate people while flights and travel documents are arranged.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it was monitoring the hurricane and “will assess its impact on current policies as appropriate.” The U.S. State Department said in a statement that it was working with other governments on how to address the Haitian immigrants.

Wilfred Jean-Luis, who moved to Brazil in 2014 and left when construction work dried up, was optimistic that he would eventually join cousins in Miami after a grueling journey that included getting robbed in Nicaragua, a common experience among the Haitians. “How is Haiti going to able to take us back as deportees?” he asked after a night on Tijuana’s streets. “They don’t have the capacity."

Miami Herald



After making an impassioned plea to the federal government to halt deportations of Haitians in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, local leaders welcomed an announcement that the deportations will be put on hold — at least for now. Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, was one of several leaders calling on the Obama administration and politicians to reverse course on the decision three weeks ago to start deportations again. A moratorium on deportations had been in place since the the 2010 earthquake. “We believe that it is a step in the right direction even though we are disappointed that he is saying it’s a temporary stop of the deportations,” Bastien said.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the policy’s suspension Tuesday while speaking in Mexico City. Thousands of Haitians have been embarking on a 7,000-mile journey over land from Brazil to the Mexico at San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego, trying to gain entry into the United States. “We will have to deal with that situation, address it, be sympathetic to the plight of the people of Haiti as a result of the hurricane,” Johnson said Tuesday. “But after that situation, after that condition has been addressed, we intend to resume the policy change that I brought about several weeks ago.”

On Wednesday, he reiterated that deportations had only been “suspended temporarily. Working with the government of Haiti, DHS intends to resume those flights as soon as possible. This should be clear: the policy change I announced on September 22 remains in effect, for now and in the future.” From October 2015 to early September, officials processed more than 5,000 Haitians at the California entry point, a significant increase from about 300 people in fiscal year 2015. Only about 75 Haitians are being processed per day at the San Ysidro entry, Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told the Associated Press.

Bastien said the situation in Haiti is too dire for a temporary halting of the policy, with Hurricane Matthew ravaging the country and causing more than 300 deaths, with food shortages and cholera cases on the rise. “When you look at the impact of the destruction in Haiti, it’s going to take Haiti at least 10 years to recover, and the administration knows it,” Bastien said. Local activists think that the refugees that are being detained in the Imperial Regional Detention Facility just over the border in California should be released. They are also asking for additional Temporary Protected Status for Haitians impacted by the hurricane. “Any deportations threaten the future of Haiti’s stability. The idea is to work with the administration to have them not enforce this policy,” said Gepsie Metellus, executive director of the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Miami.

U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings of Miramar also sent a letter to President Barack Obama requesting Temporary Protected Status for Haitians affected by the storm.

Local activists plan to rally at the Miami U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office Friday at 3:30 p.m. Several groups are also accepting donations for Haiti relief including the city of North Miami, Miami fire rescue stations and community organizations like the Haitian Women of Miami and the South Florida Haiti Relief Group, organized by County Commissioner Jean Monestime and other local leaders.

Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

By Lizbeth Diaz

Camped in migrant centers, broken-down rooms of a dingy, semi-derelict hotel and on church floors, thousands of Haitians desperate to enter the United States are in limbo and exposed to crime in dangerous border neighborhoods of Mexico. The hard-bitten fringes of Tijuana and Mexicali are currently believed to house some 5,000 Haitians, and about 300 more are arriving daily after an arduous journey from Brazil, Mexican official numbers show. The Haitians are not yet trying to slip illegally through the desert brush into the United States. Instead, they will mostly make asylum pleas to U.S. border officials. But U.S. migration facilities are overwhelmed. Almost three times more Haitians arrive every day than are granted interviews, the Mexican government says, creating a bottleneck and a fast swelling border population. Thousands more are still making their way north in a movement of people bound to exacerbate the backlog in the final weeks of a U.S. presidential campaign that has focused heavily on immigration and the Mexican border.

Mexico's established migrant shelters are unable to cope with the rapidly rising numbers, so five Protestant churches have opened their doors to the new arrivals in recent days, and in Mexicali's red-light zone a flop house for deportees and drug addicts has been converted by a migrant activist into cheap and dirty digs for the Haitians. It has no glass in its windows. In the streets outside, locals smoke meth and a glue mixture called "cement" to get high. In Tijuana, small tent cities housing Haitians have sprung up on patches of wasteland. Three Haitians told Reuters they had been mugged by local criminals. Rights activists say the newcomers are vulnerable to extortion and kidnapping by gangs who charge thousands of dollars to smuggle people into the United States. They also worry about some of the new arrivals turning to crime. Desperation is growing as shelters run by Mexican charities fill to the brim. About 600 Haitians were crammed last week into Padre Chava's soup kitchen and shelter in Tijuana, where arguments broke out among migrants over food and blankets.
At least five makeshift spaces have been opened by churches in the town to cope with the overflow and even so, some are sleeping in the streets, said Margarita Andonaegui, director at Padre Chava's place. "They tell us they are being mugged at the bus station and taxi drivers take them to the police to be extorted. A few days ago one of them was assaulted and beaten. We had to take him to hospital for stitches," said Andonaegui. "They are exposed both to being mugged and to becoming muggers, because many are on the streets" without work, she said. After surviving a massive earthquake in 2010, tens of thousands of Haitians sought refuge in Brazil, hoping for a new life in a booming economy. But Brazil's worst recession in decades put many on the road again this year and U.S. policy not to deport them back to their devastated homeland drew them to the U.S.-Mexico border. "We don't want to cause problems in Mexico. We want to get to the United States to work and help our families," Peterson Joseph said, lying in a tent in the sweltering hallway of El Migrante, the Mexicali hotel, after calling his relatives back home in Haiti, which was battered last week by another natural disaster, Hurricane Matthew.

The U.S. government has flip-flopped on deporting Haitians in recent weeks, first saying they would be flown home like other undocumented immigrants then reinstating special treatment after Hurricane Matthew brought new destruction to the Americas' poorest country. "It makes us so sad to think we can't cross. We have traveled for so long, so many countries," said Joseph, who will likely spend weeks living in the squalid hotel before he has a chance of getting an interview with a U.S. border official.

After 2010, some 80,000 Haitians made their way to Brazil, where many found employment in agriculture, industry and construction. But jobs have now dried up. "There was no more work. The economy froze and now I am stuck here - no money, no hope, no way to even return home to see my children," said Carolina Pierre Louis, a Haitian living in Sao Paulo. To escape those conditions, those who can scrape together the money are making a hellish journey north, through mountains and in rickety sea-bound vessels, on foot through Panama's jungle border with Colombia. Most countries in Latin America make it hard for Haitians to legally enter their territory, and many of the migrants throw away their passports to help the pretense they are from Africa, meaning airplane travel is not an option. "These people are desperate," said Father Paolo Parise, who leads efforts by a Catholic church in Sao Paulo to help the Haitians. "They are going to try to enter at Tijuana, or pay [smugglers] to get into the U.S. through the desert."

Migrants interviewed by Reuters said they had already spent from $4,000 to $7,000 to make the journey. Sandra Joseph, a 22-year old woman with three kids who waited for food and a room at a shelter in Tijuana said she had lost track of how much the journey had cost them. "We were robbed by thugs and police. They charged us $1,300 dollars to cross the Nicaraguan border. We don't have any more money," she said. U.S. officials said many Haitians pose as Congolese while in Mexico to avoid deportation because Mexico has weak diplomatic ties to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of the Congo. Mexico says more than 4,000 Haitians entered the country this year and some 11,000 Africans. Many of those who say they are Africans are likely Haitians although people from Congo and other African countries as well as from the Middle East are also using the route north from Brazil to reach the United States.

It is unclear how many more Haitians could arrive at the U.S. border, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldana said last month that 40,000 had left Brazil. Some 8,000 are in Panama and Costa Rica, according to those countries' governments. The tide of Haitians adds to a backlog of U.S. asylum requests that has ballooned since 2014 as Central Americans flee drug violence and poverty. More than 5,000 Haitian immigrants entered the United States without visas this fiscal year through Oct. 1, Department of Homeland Security officials said, up from 339 the previous year. "This is one of the worst migration crisis in memory," said Pat Murphy, a U.S. priest who runs a migrant shelter in Tijuana.

(Additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo and Julia Edwards in Washington. Writing by Michael O'Boyle and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Kieran Murray

Miami Herald


Despite the continuing aftermath of Hurricane Matthew’s Category 4 fury that left two million Haitians living in precarious conditions, the U.S. government has quietly resumed deportation flights to the storm-ravaged nation after temporarily halting them to give Haiti time to recover. Several sources including two leading Haiti human rights officials and a spokesman for the Haiti National Police — which is charged with meeting deportees when they are sent back to Haiti — confirmed to the Miami Herald that the flights have resumed. The first flight arrived Thursday in Port-au-Prince with 30 people on board and another flight arrived Tuesday carrying 40. "These are not criminal deportees but people who went to Brazil and transited through Mexico to San Diego, California,” said Pierre Esperance, executive director of the National Network Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH).

He said the resumption of the flights while Haiti is struggling to rebound after the storm is “unacceptable.” “Frankly, the American government isn’t showing solidarity with Haiti,” Esperance said. “Haiti is in an extremely complicated situation. You have a hurricane, ongoing flooding, elections that are coming and a bankrupt public is not the moment to start repatriating people.” Haiti National Police Spokesman Gary Desrosiers also confirmed the arrivals of Haitians who he said had been living in Brazil and imprisoned in the U.S. and put in removal proceedings.

It’s been five weeks since Matthew made landfall on Haiti’s southern peninsula, devastating farms, destroying homes and cutting off roads, with 169 communities still inaccessible and more than 1.4 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations, which is struggling to raise $120 million to provide emergency assistance, has called Matthew Haiti’s biggest humanitarian crisis since the country’s Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. This week, the country suffered new problems with torrential rains in its northern city of Cap-Haitien. At least 10 people were killed as a result of the rain, which has created waist-high flooding in Cap-Haitien.

Days after Matthew, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that the United States would temporarily halt deportation flights to Haiti. He made the announcement just weeks after the U.S. government announced on Sept. 22 that it was ending a six-year moratorium on deportations to Haiti. That decision, immigration officials said, was because of “a sharp increase in the number of Haitian nationals taking dangerous smuggling routes to apply for admission to our country in the San Diego, Calif., area without advance authorization.” DHS did not respond to repeated emails asking for information about the decision. Haitian activists in Florida and California, who had been pressing the Obama administration into Tuesday’s U.S. presidential elections to reverse the Sept. 22 deportation policy for Haitians and to allow newly arriving undocumented Haitians the opportunity to work in the United States without the fear of deportation, were for the most part taken by surprise.

Several activists received an email from a San Diego activist over the weekend saying that “DHS has resumed deportations to Haiti,” and there could be two flights a week. “It’s completely outrageous given the devastation Hurricane Matthew caused and the inability of Haiti to receive deportees,” said Steven Forester, a longtime activist in South Florida’s Haitian community. “The only thing that has changed in Haiti is that the vast devastation affecting two million people in Haiti is no longer in the headlines; that’s the only thing that has changed since they suspended deportations.” Attorney Randy McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services, said he and other activists believed that they had assurances from Homeland Security officials that they would not resume deportations without notice. “No matter which way they do it, it’s wrong and goes against every humanitarian impulse that we as Americans share,” he said. “ It’s very shameful that they would would wait only a month after one of the most devastating natural disasters in the Caribbean since the earthquake and to do it secretly without asking for any feedback from Haitian advocates. It is outrageous.”

Miami Herald

Facing an influx of undocumented Haitian migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border with Mexico and a lack of jail space, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday that it would step up deportations to Haiti in the coming weeks. “Recently, we have seen an increase in the numbers of those apprehended on the southern border. I have instructed our border security and immigration enforcement personnel to take steps to keep pace with this increase,” Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson said. Earlier this month, U.S. immigration officials decided to release some Haitians arriving in California and Arizona because of a lack of beds in detention facilities. The number of available beds is between 31,000 and 34,000.

In the last several weeks, about 200 Haitians have been deported to Haiti. There are currently 41,000 individuals in immigration detention centers. About 4,400 are Haitian nationals. The resumption of deportation flights will not affect Haitian nationals currently covered by Temporary Protected Status (TPS). These individuals will remain eligible for employment authorization. TPS for Haitian nationals has been extended through July 22, 2017.  The Embassy of Haiti in Washington, D.C., is encouraging family members seeking information on detained relatives to contact its hotline: 202-549-8712.

On Sept. 22, Homeland Security ended a six-year moratorium on non-criminal deportations to Haiti, citing “improved conditions in Haiti” since the country’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake and “a significant increase” in the number of Haitian nationals taking a dangerous smuggling route from Brazil to the Southwest border in San Diego, California. Deportation flights were temporarily suspended after Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Haiti on Oct. 4 as a Category 4 storm. The flights were resumed days before the U.S. presidential election. On Sunday, Haiti finally held its long-awaited presidential rerun elections. Officials are still tallying the votes, and preliminary results could come as soon as Monday.

National Public Radio


Desperate Haitian immigrants have been massing along the U.S.-Mexico border for months seeking humanitarian relief. In the past year more than 5,000 have sought entry into the United States — a 500 percent increase over the previous year. After the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti, thousands of citizens migrated to Brazil looking for work. But as Brazil has slipped into recession in recent years, many of them have hit the road again, heading north on a 6,000-mile journey to the U.S. border — by every means of conveyance. "Taxi, bus, plane, bicycle, boat, horses, and we've walked for five days," says Pierre Smith, 34, a smiling, broad-faced accountant from Port-au-Prince. He's staying at the San Juan Bosco, an immigrant shelter on a barren hilltop in Nogales, Mexico, while he and 100 of his countrymen wait to cross into Nogales, Ariz. These Haitians want the same generous benefits that were extended after the earthquake, when they got protection from deportation and temporary work permits. But the U.S. welcome mat is gone, and the new wave of Haitians is in for a harsh reception.

The Homeland Security Department announced new rules in September. All Haitians who show up at the border without papers and who don't ask for asylum are now detained. Pierre Smith knows this. He and others like him won't be granted asylum because they're fleeing poverty, not political persecution — so once they cross, they will join nearly 4,500 other Haitians currently in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). San Juan Bosco, an immigrant shelter on a barren hilltop in Nogales, Mexico. Once the Haitian migrants cross the border they will join nearly 4,500 other Haitians currently in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "When I get there, I don't mind staying in detention," he said, standing on the front steps of the shelter in a black muscle shirt. "I am looking for a better life."

As a result of the Haitian influx and a continuing surge of Central Americans on the southern border of Texas, the government has run out of detention space. This is why the Haitians are bottlenecked all along the western U.S.-Mexico border.

In Nogales, immigration agents only grant three appointments a day because there's nowhere to put the newcomers. Yet Smith and the others remain undeterred. "We have already sacrificed — we spent more than three months traveling to get here," he says. "So we will wait." Immigration activists are outraged at the policy of mandatory detention for Haitians. "Instead of looking for more detention space, why not give them humanitarian parole so that they can work in the U.S. and have a more dignified way of life?" asks Father Sean Carroll, a Jesuit and the director of the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Ariz.

One answer is compassion fatigue. The United States allowed in 60,000 Haitian immigrants as a result of the earthquake. Now officials have heard that as many as 40,000 more have left Brazil for the United States. The U.S. doesn't have enough jail beds for all of the immigrants presenting themselves at the border. In recent months, the total number of immigrants in detention hasjumped to 41,000. Normally, it's between 31,000 and 34,000. "This is an unprecedented, exponential increase in immigration detention rates," says Joanne Lin with the National Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union. Earlier this month, Homeland Security announced it is signing contracts for more detention space in the same private, for-profit jails that have generated enormous controversy.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released a report last month citing testimony about degrading living conditions, bad food, poor medical care and understaffing at the private jails where immigrants are housed. It called for a halt to punitive detention for noncitizens who are not criminals. ICE maintained in a statement that the for-profit lockups are "a safe and humane environment for all those in its custody." Back at the shelter in Nogales, Mexico, Pierre Smith eats chicken and rice, charges his cellphone and waits for his appointment with a blue-shirted U.S. immigration agent. He prays that somehow he will be able to join his relatives in South Florida. "It's better to die than to return to Haiti," he says, "because life will be really, really, really difficult for us."

The U.S. government had temporarily suspended sending Haitians home because of damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in early October. But in recent weeks, ICE resumed deportations. U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, a Brooklyn Democrat whose district has a large Haitian population, joined with 13 other members of Congress to ask Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to stop the deportations. "In this period of turmoil," she said in a letter Nov. 9, "the forced removal of Haitian nationals will only exacerbate the difficulties of rebuilding Haiti and deny families access to remittances from relatives in the United States." But ICE is moving ahead with the deportations. Since late October, the agency reports that about 200 Haitian nationals have been repatriated — with thousands more to go. A Nov. 23 Homeland Security press release says ICE "plans to significantly expand removal operations in the coming weeks."

Miami New Times

By Tim Elfrink


Natasha Joseph’s almond-shaped eyes brim with tears as she cradles her pregnant belly and recounts the horror of her journey to the United States. There were the dust-choked buses, the corrupt cops, and the thieving coyotes. Some stretches of Central America were so perilous that walking in the dead of night was the only option. But after four months of brutal risk, the worst came at the Arizona border, which the 31-year-old crossed in early September. That's where her husband John was later detained. He’s still behind bars with little hope he’ll witness the birth of his child. “When I ask him when I’ll see him again,” says Joseph, speaking in hushed Kreyol, “he just sounds resigned that he will be there for a long time.”

Thousands of South Florida families are living similarly devastating stories today thanks to a little-noticed move by the Obama administration. This past September 22, just weeks before the election, Homeland Security abruptly ramped up deportation of Haitians for the first time since the island's massive 2010 earthquake. No longer can new arrivals stay for up to three years on humanitarian parole — instead, they’re being jailed and fast-tracked for a return to the island. The results have been shocking: In all, 4,681 Haitian migrants are being detained across the United States, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Immigration facilities have been so overrun that hundreds of immigrants have been moved to criminal jails, in violation of international norms. Meanwhile, conditions in Haiti are the worst since the earthquake. The south is still in shambles after Hurricane Matthew, and violent postelection unrest is rocking Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien “You look at what’s going on in Haiti right now, and it’s very, very bad,” says Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami. “Obama still has the moral authority to stop these deportations and free these Haitians who are refugees from a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Many in Little Haiti pin their hopes on a last-minute White House reprieve from President Barack Obama before he turns over power to Donald Trump, who will almost certainly make life more difficult for poor migrants. But Haitians shouldn’t hold their breath, says Ediberto Román, a law professor at Florida International University who studies immigration trends: “Extending humanitarian relief to these people seems very unlikely when [Obama] did the exact opposite just a couple of months ago.” Despite Haiti’s long history of turbulent politics and natural disaster, mass migrations to the United States are a recent phenomenon. As recently as 1960, only 5,000 Haitians lived in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

Haitians began fleeing to America in earnest after the brutal Duvalier era ended with Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier's 1986 ouster. Their numbers exploded five years later when the country’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was deposed in a coup. Tens of thousands fled the chaos, and more than 30,000 were eventually held in battered tents surrounded by barbed wire at the U.S. Naval station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami, is lobbying Obama for a last-minute reprieve for Haitian migrants.
Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami, is lobbying Obama for a last-minute reprieve for Haitian migrants.

In the decades since, thousands have moved to Miami-Dade and Broward, helping to reshape the region in Caribbean enclaves such as Little Haiti and North Miami. Numbers picked up again after 2010’s earthquake leveled most of Port-au-Prince and forced the United States to loosen immigration rules. The U.S. Haitian population has tripled since 1990, growing from 200,000 to more than 600,000 in the 2012, according to U.S. Census data. But this year, a whirlwind of misfortunes has coalesced into the worst migration crisis since 1991. The exodus began in the spring, well before Matthew raked Haiti with 150 mph winds. The root cause was Brazil’s misery; thousands of Haitians had immigrated to the South American giant to take advantage of an economic boom that began under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. When Brazil’s economy suddenly cratered, those Haitians were left stranded and desperate. Thousands began paying coyotes for the long and treacherous overland route to the U.S.-Mexican border.

That’s exactly what happened to Natasha Joseph and her husband John. Both are from Croix-des-Bouquets, an area of 80,000 on the eastern edge of Port-au-Prince. The 2010 earthquake largely spared the area, but thousands from neighboring regions soon flooded in and set up tent cities. Word spread that jobs were to be had in Brazil, so Joseph and her partner traveled there late last year. But Brazil was not what they’d been promised. By midsummer, economists were predicting that nation’s economy would shrink by nearly 4 percent, spurred by political unrest and falling commodity prices. Haitians were suddenly unwelcome. “Each time we went to look for work, no one would help us,” Joseph says. “They asked us to come back and come back until we realized it was a question of discrimination. They just didn’t want to help us. We went to Brazil to see if things could be better, but when we got there, we realized things were much worse.” "Obama still has the moral authority to stop these deportations and free these Haitians."

Returning to Haiti, though, was not an option. In late spring, Joseph and her husband headed for America, traveling by bus and foot through ten countries, from Peru to Panama to Nicaragua and finally into Mexico. The trip was harrowing. “We went through countries where people were very aggressive, very abusive,” she says. “In some, they wanted to hurt you more than help you. It was full of risk. But this trip was a matter of life or death for us.” They were lucky. By early September, they’d made it to the border, along with hundreds of other immigrants — so many that Mexican authorities sorted them into groups, with women and children receiving preference. Joseph crossed into America, and like most Haitians since the earthquake, was released as a humanitarian refugee.

John spent weeks waiting his turn. But then it was too late. Homeland Security suddenly changed the rules. Jeh Johnson, the department’s chief, approved the shift because life in Haiti had improved since the earthquake. “Since that time, the situation in Haiti has improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis,” Johnson said. His decision left activists and migrants baffled. Haiti’s economy was still in ruins, with a cholera epidemic barely contained and tens of thousands still homeless. Just two weeks after Johnson’s announcement of the policy change, his words looked even more insane.

On October 4, Category 5 Matthew swept through Haiti, killing more than 1,600 and causing billions of dollars in damage. Then, in late November, banana farmer Jovenel Moïse was elected president after a long-delayed and disputed vote; riots and gun battles have raged in Port-au-Prince and other cities since then. As Natasha Joseph made her way to Miami, where she's since found refuge with relatives, she wondered, How could the government possibly claim Haiti was stable enough to force John to return there, especially after surviving such a terrible journey from Brazil?

She’s far from alone in asking that question. On a recent weeknight, she and a half-dozen others with relatives stuck in ICE detention gathered in Bastien’s Little Haiti office. Several cried as they asked why Obama had turned his back on their struggles. “Obama is a human being — he has to have the conscience to do something for them,” says Esther Magene, whose niece has been held in a California detention center for several months after traveling to the United States from Brazil. Magene weeps while describing her niece’s pain: By the time she made it to America, the girl's face was battered and her feet shredded from walking through forests and deserts. She suffers from PTSD while awaiting likely deportation to Haiti. “She cries every day. She won’t eat because she’s depressed,” Magene says. “She went through too much to get here.”

Bastien and other activists have been lobbying for a miracle. The Haitian leader recently met with U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, who joined 57 other legislators from both sides of the aisle in a letter urging Obama to reconsider the deportation order. "Haiti has made little progress in its efforts to recover from the 2010 earthquake, a task made even more difficult by Hurricane Matthew,” Wilson says in a statement. "These deportations would send thousands of law-abiding Haitians who have been able to rebuild their lives here in America to a dismal fate. Most will be returning to nothing: no homes, no jobs, no futures."

That’s exactly what Natasha Joseph says her husband would face back in Croix-des-Bouquets, while she’d have to raise her child without a father. She still hopes Obama might consider the human cost of the increased deportations before he moves out of the White House. “I would ask him to allow us to stay,” she says. “After all we’ve been through, I think that would be fair.”


Vice News

by Andalusia Knoll Soloff


Thousands of Haitian migrants have fled poverty in their country to search for a better life in the US. Now they're stuck on the Mexican border in what experts are calling a new humanitarian crisis. With just her knapsack on her shoulders, 27-year old Brigitte Pierre travelled alone in Latin America, across ten countries. She waded through a tropical rainforest in between Colombia and Panama and travelled by boat on the coast of Nicaragua. But this wasn't a summer backpacking adventure. Pierre was one of the thousands of Haitian migrants making the 7000-mile trek across the continent, with their eyes set on the American dream. Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, thousands fled the country in search of work and better living conditions. Brazil authorized visas for 40,000 and put many to work constructing stadiums for the World Cup and the Olympics. When the

Games ended and the Brazilian economy plummeted, people started heading north. Some, like Pierre, moved to Chile. But when she heard that the US had granted entry to some Haitian migrants under a humanitarian parole provision, she joined those beginning the long journey north. "If only I was an ant," says Pierre in frustration. She's made it as far as Tijuana, Mexico, but there is now a large wall blocking her from reaching Miami, her final destination.

The hardest part of the journey, she says, was crossing the Darién Gap between Panama and Colombia. She waded through water in the swampy rainforest with ten men from Nepal, India, and Cuba. According to Pierre, everyone traveling this brutal path looks out for each other, or, as she laughingly describes, "Different colors, one people." Before entering the jungle, the people in her group were given three vaccines and told by Panamanian health workers, "If you don't take these, you won't get out of here alive." She says that she saw a handful of human skeletons along the path, but it only fueled her determination to walk faster.

When she arrived in Tijuana in the middle of December, she was a given a date three months down the road to go before US immigration authorities and present her case for humanitarian parole. When asked if she fears incoming president Donald Trump's proposals to tighten immigration policy, she responds, "He also has a heart and has to act kindly with good people." Pierre is from Cap-Haïtien, a city on the north coast of Haiti, but she has many aunts and cousins who lived in Port-au-Prince and sent money back to the family. While the 2010 earthquake did not affect Pierre's hometown, it levelled parts of the capital and killed her relatives. Their deaths exacerbated an already difficult financial situation and forced her to look for work outside of home.

Now, Pierre's mother cares for her three-year-old son back in Cap-Haïtien; Pierre dreams of bringing him to Florida if she makes it. In the meantime, she works at a pizza shop down the block from her temporary home—a shelter in Tijuana set up to house migrants. She sends part of her earnings to Haiti, saving some for the rest of her journey. There are over 50 people who sleep on the ground in this small makeshift shelter, including families with young children and babies. Every nook and cranny serves as a bedroom, including a small wedge of space under the stairs. Wi-Fi is the shelter's most important amenity, as it allows people to communicate with family back in Haiti, check in with the family members who are will receive them in the US, and any friends embarking on the perilous South American journey.

Pierre, who is multilingual, previously studied in the Dominican Republic and assists with roll call and other coordination activities. The Mexican shelter workers don't speak French or Creole, and most of the migrants don't speak Spanish. Up until May of 2016, Tijuana was home to five shelters that housed migrants—largely US deportees, Central Americans, and Mexicans internally displaced by cartel-related violence. Now coordinators estimate that there are over 25 shelters, the majority providing temporary housing to Haitians. Mexico's National Migration Institute calculates that over 16,000 Haitian people passed through Baja California, the state where Tijuana is located, in 2016. Advocates say that over 10,000 more will arrive this year.

The Casa Madre Asunta is a shelter for women and children. In the past, it mainly housed displaced Mexicans fleeing the violence that plagues the southern states of Michoacán and Guerrero. Haitians now make up the most of the residents. Maria Galván, the center's staff social worker, estimates that close to 4,000 people have stayed in the shelter over the past year, the majority Haitian. "We are completely overwhelmed," Galván says. The shelter normally houses 50 people; there are close to 150 women and children now. She says that they have received little help from Mexican authorities and international NGOs. "It is the people of Tijuana who have really been helping out, volunteering every day, donating food and Christmas presents."

Another Haitian migrant, Gertha Bordeleaus, plays a similar role to Pierre in Casa Madre Asunta. She helps other Haitian women communicate with Spanish-speaking doctors who have volunteered to provide them with treatment. In between appointments, she speaks about the difficulties she, her infant son, and her husband encountered on the difficult journey."Nicaragua is hell; you pay $1,000 to cross and when you arrive to Honduras, they send you back to Costa Rica," says Bordeleaus. She said they had to pay smugglers three different times just to make it across this small Central American nation, which is the only one that has completely closed its doors to the influx of global migrants from South America. In Guatemala, she says, a taxi driver armed with a machete robbed her family.

The US has granted humanitarian parole to most pregnant women and women with children who have arrived at the border. The problem is that the father is usually placed into detention and eventually deported back to Haiti. This causes difficulties for the women who have made it to the US. Ninaj Raoul, the executive director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, says that is difficult for mothers with small children to find work, and they are left with no income if the family's primary breadwinner is detained. Raoul has also seen mothers who were allowed to enter but had planned to settle with their husband's family, "This series of irresponsible government actions has caused the separation of many families, trauma to the men, women and children that took the road to find opportunities to work to support their families," she says. It doesn't help that US has flip-flopped on immigration policy. Once the numbers of those requesting humanitarian parole began to rise, authorities stopped granting them and instead placed migrants into detention and deportation proceedings.

According to a statement made in November 2016 by Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the government is currently detaining 4,400 Haitian people and has sped up deportations. In that month alone, over 200 Haitians were deported. Previously, the US were removing people on a limited basis, which Raoul says amounted to around 50 deportees a month. Mexico's government continues to allow Haitians in on a temporary permission form that allows them to stay in the country until they have their interview with US authorities. This allows Haitians to avoid the increasingly dangerous Mexican routes to the US used by Central American migrants. But migrant rights advocates say that the Mexican authorities have not done enough to address what they describe as a growing humanitarian crisis. "We understand the plight of these folks, we understand they are looking for a better life," says Rudolfo Figueroa, Mexico's top immigration official in Baja California. "However we are not in a position to do much about it because we don't run US immigration policy."

Of the dozen Haitian migrants interviewed for this article, only one expressed any concern that a Donald Trump presidency would make it more difficult for them to be allowed to enter the US. Raoul asked what Trump could do that would be worse than what Barack Obama has already done. "By frequently shifting the immigration policy and/or practices on Haitian immigrants in the past four months," she says, "the Obama administration has further exasperated a humanitarian crisis, by causing confusion in the process for Haitians at the border for advocates, lawyers, immigrant organizations, refugee organizations, and most of all the Haitian refugees themselves." Until US immigration policy changes, Haitians like Brigitte Pierre have been left in migratory limbo. Meanwhile, there are thousands more en route in South America, heading towards an increasingly uncertain future.


By Makini Brice 

John Stevens Val borrowed $3,000 from friends and family and trekked through 10 countries to make his way to the United States, where he hoped life would be better than in Haiti, his impoverished homeland. But in the end he landed in a U.S. immigration detention center and was deported back to Haiti, deep in debt and struggling to integrate, like so many other Haitians. Val, 28, left home after a devastating 2010 earthquake that wrecked the economy of the Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western hemisphere. He worked in Brazil at a supermarket for about two years until a crash in Latin America's biggest economy led him to pack his bags again. After gathering the cash, he made his way via, plane, boat, three days of walking through forests, and a dozen buses before reaching Arizona 

For seven years after the quake, U.S. policy protected Haitians from deportation unless they were convicted of a serious crime or posed a national security threat. Encouraged by the policy, between October 2015 and December 2016, more than 13,500 Haitians like Val made the perilous trip, up from just a few hundred in the previous year. In September, in response to the surge in Haitian immigrants, the United States restarted deportation flights for newly arrived Haitians who do not have a case for seeking asylum.

More Haitians arrived late last year, with more than 7,000 crossing the border between October and December alone, creating a backlog that will take months for the new administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to clear. For Val, who was still en route through South America when the shift occurred, the new policy came as a huge shock. "You lose all of your money and now you do not even succeed," said Val, sitting in the library of non-profit organization, the Jesuit Service for Migrants. Back in a country with 40 percent unemployment, Val was worried. "It's not easy to live in Haiti. It's complicated. There is no aid; there is no organization that can help us in one way or the other. We're here. We live poorly," Val said.

To make things worse, shortly after deportations resumed, Category-4 Hurricane Matthew trashed Haiti’s southwest. After one flight carrying some of the first Haitians to be repatriated arrived a few weeks ago, some of the 60 passengers sobbed, while others looked furious, clinging to gray sweatshirts issued in the U.S. detention centers. “They spent a lot of money. It's like a broken dream. They left thinking they would stay 20, 30, 40 years or never return,” said Adelson Lorgeat, the technical and research director for Haiti’s National Office of Migration. “They consider it to be a dishonor, a defeat.”

Lorgeat advises deportees at Port-au-Prince airport but said the office did not have funds to provide additional support. In November, of some 40,000 people in immigration detention, more than 4,400 were Haitians, according to the then U.S. secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson. Between October 2016 and Jan. 16, 2017, 1,513 Haitians were deported, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said. As of Jan. 16, 4,060 were in U.S. detention, an indication more are crossing from Mexico, where even more are massed on the border. Val said he had not ruled out leaving Haiti once more for different shores, if he had the money. “If I don’t have any opportunities, I’ll leave,” he said.

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Leslie Adler)

Tijuana, Mexico - Mexico has stepped in to offer Haitian migrants - escapees from natural disaster - what the United States  and other more wealthy countries will not: Refuge. Outside a string of businesses in the city centre, a young man walks with purpose to his new job. He is from Haiti , like many who came during the Trump campaign and after Hurricane Matthew , which claimed well over 1,000 lives in the country late last year. "Mexico offered us [Haitian refugees] to stay here, even though the US is much more rich, culturally and economically - but they don't want to. We suffered chaos in our country after the devastating earthquake [in 2010]. Mexico allowed us in to work to help our families. The US just wants to deport us," said the man, who asked to be called Wesley so that his interview would not affect his residency status. 

In Tijuana, Wesley has a job and a shared apartment. "Mexicans accept us as humans - even with our differences," he said. "The US should learn from Mexico how to have a heart."  He started his journey like many Haitians - in Brazil , smuggling himself through an "impossible route". In some cases Haitians travel through nine or 10 countries. Wesley spent about $5,000 on his journey. "It's a lot of money. But we want a better life," he said.  In the jungles of Colombia , many refugees such as Wesley have "seen dead Haitians - men and women - who had tried to cross. It causes great pain to see those who died." 

Wesley spoke to Al Jazeera in French. For many Haitians, French is the only language, other than their native Haitian Creole, that they speak. So coming to Mexico or the US means not only an arduous journey but a language barrier. Wesley is now learning Spanish. There are about 3,000 to 3,500 Haitians in Tijuana alone - and another 1,000 to 1,500 in Mexicali, another border town 200 kilometres east, estimates Hugo Castro, the director of Border Angels, an organisation that delivers resources to migrants attempting to reach, or who have been deported from, the US. Some came after the hurricane in September and October 2016, but most came, he says, in April and May during Trump's election campaign.  "It's no coincidence it happened as Trump's chances increased," Castro said. "It's the Trump effect."

A Haitian migrant at Zona Centro says he had hoped to make it to the US border but has found work in Tijuana instead [Jessica Chou/Al Jazeera] Cecilef, 32, is planning on making the trek to the US, although she is earning a decent living in Mexico - for $2 a plate, she sells traditional Haitian food to migrants on the street outside a shelter in the Northern Zone with a strict zero-drugs and alcohol policy.

The food cart has become popular with non-Haitians as well, she says. A cluster of people rejected from the shelter are camped out across the street. "They do feel better [when they eat Haitian food]," she told Al Jazeera in Creole.  Across town, in the middle of Canon del Alacran, or Scorpion Canyon, there is a large church that is home to more than 400 people from Haiti, about 60 of whom are children. The church - the Temple of Jesus' Ambassadors - is not accessible by car. One must walk across wooden planks over a ravine and then up a dirt path that becomes dangerous to traverse in the rainy season, locals say.

The men sleep in the large main hall at the front of the building, the women and children sleep at the back towards the kitchen, where there are large vats of water. The city only recently gave this area running water, after Castro's Border Angels and others expressed outrage at the treatment of the new arrivals.  And still, resources here are scarce. The vats in the kitchen space are marked in Creole, Dio pou lave (washing water) and Dio pou bwe (drinking water). 

It costs $200 a day to feed everyone here, Castro estimates - a small sum considering the number of people it sustains, but an extraordinary amount of money for Tijuana philanthropists.  One of the young men staying in the church, who asked to be called James, hopes to cross over to the US, but he has been cautioned against it by friends who were deported back to Haiti.  "I have friends who have been deported. They were sent back," he said - the friends contacted people in the shelter with mobile phones via WhatsApp.  "These friends got deported on the trip [to the US], and they become like crazy people. They lose their memory," James said.  "We are creating a lost generation among Haitians. People gave up everything with their lives and their little resources," said another man who asked to be called George and was sitting with James in the church-shelter's kitchen area. 

When they are deported, "they have to start from zero. Everything is finished," James said.  "Imagine that you take that kind of long road, and you spent everything to go to the US, and once you get there, you are expelled. Maybe you had a family and people counting on you. And you have nothing to show for it. You can imagine what happens to you in that situation," James added. He "can't count" how many people back in Haiti are depending on his successful arrival in the US, he said.  James will cross - obtain the money necessary to do so from relatives - and make the dangerous journey with the coyotes , if he must, he explained.

A number of migrant shelters can be found in Zona Norte, known as the red light district of Tijuana and a hotbed for criminal and gang activity Coyotes have become increasingly unscrupulous in recent years.  "Now, there are no more ethical coyotes," a person with intimate knowledge of the border-crossing industry told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, to avoid the kind of violence for which the smugglers are now known.

US Customs and Border Patrol: The largest federal law enforcement agency of the US department of homeland security. It is charged with regulating and facilitating international trade, collecting import duties and enforcing US immigration and customs law. Vigilantes: Individuals who take the law into their own hands and act violently without lawful procedures against those whom they feel have disobeyed the laws of society.

Migrants: Individuals who move around from place to place for seasonal work. Donald Trump, however, is focusing more on undocumented migrants - those migrants entering the US without the correct legal documentation.

Shelters: Shelters provide accommodation for those in need. While there were existing shelters on both sides of the border, these have recently become over-crowded after the signing of the Executive Policy on Immigration.

Once seen as vigilantes circumventing what are regarded as racist and class-based immigration policies, nowadays, many coyotes who turn back still demand to be paid as much as $10,000 - a number that has steadily increased since the 1980s, when it would cost only $300. Sometimes they hold the migrants captive until they are paid. 

Still, the person said, the coyotes represent to many a singular chance - particularly amid calls to bolster the barriers - of a better life. For many migrants, they are revered in the same way that many Mexicans revere the  murderous and philanthropic drug lord El Chapo.  "The line between what is good and bad is so tiny; it depends on your perspective," the source said.  With the panic over Trump's tightening of controls, the person said coyotes are still "going to find a way." The only difference is that more people will be willing to risk great dangers to end up in the US. "More people are going to die," they said. 

US and Mexican authorities have in recent months found several cross-border drug tunnels. Mexican-American comedian George Lopez has joked that Trump's wall will do nothing, because: "We got tunnels!" But those tunnels don't transport humans, the source said, only drugs.  "How many pounds does a person weigh? 150 pounds? It's more profitable to bring in 150 pounds of cocaine."  The source said that the wall will act as a boon to narcotics traffickers who have been competing with their counterparts in the US.  "The wall will bring more death. Is it going to be safer? It depends on your perspective." The wall may keep some migrants out, but only time will tell how many more will die taking desperate measures to find workarounds. 

The trek across the border is especially difficult for some of the most vulnerable migrants.

PART 1: How Trump's wall is affecting those at the borders

Their prospects are often no better if they attempt to enter the US without the help of smugglers. George said that he and his pregnant wife went to the US border - as opposed to sneaking into the country - months before Trump's election. Border Patrol let her in but turned George away. George does not speak English and was unaware of what was happening.  "There is no way to express what it feels like to see your wife on the other side," he said. 

He has relatives in the US and his wife will soon give birth. "I won't see my baby when it's born," he said. Under the administration of former US President Barack Obama, pregnant women were sometimes accepted into the US, but now they, too, are being deported, George said.  George's eyes water, but he does not cry. The Haitian revolution that began in 1791 was a slave rebellion that not only granted the country independence from France but made it the first majority-black republic in the world. For him, Haiti's is a history of resilience that inspires. "We have to fight," James said.  "That's our culture," George agreed.

This is the second story in a five-part series looking at the US-Mexico wall and the people who live alongside it. If you want to follow this story, please enter your email here


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