Every night, Guy fell asleep to the sound of gunfire: gangs at war in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, were carrying out pitched battles in the city center.
By day, the country was plagued by bloody protests against food and fuel shortages. Cuts with burning tires were common and police responded with tear gas and clubs.
“Going outside was scary,” Guy said. “There was no choice but to leave Haiti.” He began making plans to get to the United States, and was far from alone.
Authorities in the city of Del Rio, Texas, in Texas, declared a local state of emergency Friday after about 12,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, gathered under and around a border bridge. with Mexico.
The influx has overwhelmed local officials, presented Joe Biden with a new challenge, and highlighted the growing migration crisis caused by the multiple and overlapping calamities that have plagued Haiti.
For many migrants, crossing the Rio Grande is just the last small step on a circuit odyssey that stretches across the Caribbean and as far as South America.
Most fly from Haiti to Ecuador, which does not require a visa for Haitian visitors, before attempting to find work in Brazil or Chile, or head north, through the dangerous jungles of the Darién Gap and to Central America and Mexico.
At all stages, they are at the mercy of the security forces and organized crime groups targeted at travelers and the stunted infrastructure of the human trafficking business.
Guy was one of thousands of immigrants, again mostly Haitians, who were recently trapped in Necoclí, a Colombian beach town where local ferries to Panama cannot meet demand.
Like many others, he had lived in Brazil, where he worked in informal construction jobs. But with the work dried up and the perceived welcoming attitude on the part of the Biden administration, he marched north.
“We followed those who went before us,” Guy said one recent afternoon. “It doesn’t matter if it’s dangerous.”
Others chose a more direct, but equally treacherous, journey to the United States, changing their lives on the high seas. On Monday, the Coast Guard intercepted a 35-foot boat carrying 103 people, 18 miles off the coast of Florida. They had been at sea for six days.
There are many reasons to flee Haiti. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere – long haunted by violence, corruption and poverty – was thrown into further instability in July when President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in circumstances that remain mysterious.
Natural disasters, exacerbated by climate change and poor planning, also hit the country regularly. A catastrophic earthquake struck southern Haiti on August 7, killing at least 2,200 people and leaving more than 30,000 homeless.
Insecurity reigns in Port-au-Prince. The gangs, often with political support, have launched a campaign of violence, which has been compared to a civil war. Civilians can be caught by crossfire, stolen in an instant or kidnapped to rescue them. Meanwhile, utilities are almost absent. Garbage is not collected and thousands of homes have no running water or latrine.
“There is no longer normal life in Port-au-Prince,” said Louis Henry Mars, who leads pacification initiatives in the capital’s slums. “There are 165 gangs in Port-au-Prince and they are more armed than the police, so they can’t get rid of them without collateral damage.”
Michelle Mittelstadt, of the Institute for Migration Policy, said she thought the impression, however wrong, was that the Joe Biden administration would treat migrants more kindly than Donald Trump had also contributed to the increase in arrivals.
“You went from a Trump administration that did everything it could across the border to restrict migration, legal or illegal, to an administration that considers immigration in general as a net asset and doesn’t consider immigrants as an economic or security threat “. said Mittelstadt. “People understand that there can be a window to act.”
But Haitian arrivals waiting for a welcome mat when processed can be in a rude awakening. The Biden administration has reversed the detention of deportations to Haiti that it established after the earthquake. This week, flights full of immigrants to Port-al-Príncipe have begun to depart, and it seems that eight more will go.