The Haitian journey to the Texas border begins in South America

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TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) – Robins Exile destroyed a traditional banana and chicken meal at a restaurant run by Haitian immigrants, a short walk from the walled border with the United States. He arrived the night before and went looking for advice: should I try to get to the United States or was it better to settle in Mexico?

WhatsApp messages and Facebook and YouTube videos of Haitian migrants warned him to avoid crossing into Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of Haitians have recently converged. It was no longer the easy place to cross that a few weeks ago.

Monday’s debate at the Tijuana restaurant offered a snapshot of the Haitian diaspora in the Western Hemisphere that gained momentum in 2016 and has shown few signs of relaxation, recently demonstrated by more than 14,000 mostly Haitian immigrants. gathered around a bridge in Del Rio, a city of only 35,000 people.

Of the approximately 1.8 million Haitians living outside their homeland, the United States is home to the world’s largest Haitian immigrant population, with 705,000 people from the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. According to the Institute for Migration Policy, there are also a significant number of Latin American countries, such as Chile, where there are an estimated 69,000 Haitians.

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Almost all Haitians arrive at the American border with a very worn route: it flies to Brazil, Chile or anywhere else in South America. If the jobs dry up, go slowly through Central America and Mexico by bus and on foot to wait (maybe years) for northern border cities like Tijuana the right time to enter the United States and seek asylum.

It is a population that depends little on smugglers and instead moves based on shared experience and information exchanged between the very specific community, often via WhatsApp or Facebook, about where it is safest, where the jobs they are more abundant and where it is easier to enter a country. Earlier this year, a large number of people showed up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to cross in El Paso, Texas.

During the summer, the Haitians traveled to Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, in front of Del Rio. Homeland Security Secretary Alexander Mayorkas said Monday it was unusually sudden.

Many Haitians began trying to enter the U.S. by sea in the 1980s. Most of them were cut off by the Coast Guard and may have been given a superficial review for asylum eligibility, he said. David FitgGerald, professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego and asylum expert. In 1994, Haitians were intercepted and examined by U.S. authorities on a rented Ukrainian ship and a U.S. Navy hospital ship parked in Kingston, Jamaica. Maritime attempts subsided after a Supreme Court decision allowing forced repatriations without protection of refugees.

Tens of thousands of Haitians fled after a devastating earthquake in 2010 to settle in South America. After the exhausted work of the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in 2016, many came to Tijuana. President Barack Obama initially allowed them into the United States for humanitarian reasons, but suddenly began flying them to Haiti, leaving many stranded on the Mexican border.

Since then, Haitian restaurants and other businesses have sprung up in Tijuana. Haitians have found work in border factories built for U.S. exports and in car washes. A hardscrabble neighborhood is now known as “Little Haiti” because many settled there.

Many Haitians have established at least a temporary legal status in Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere. Some have spouses or children from their adopted countries.

The exile, who joked that he appeared to have been born to be a refugee, said he was interested in obtaining documents so he could work in Mexico if his plan to get to the United States fails. He and his pregnant wife had been on the road for 2 and a half months after losing their job in Brazil. They had flown there from Haiti a year and a half ago amid a spiraling crime.

They stayed along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala for three weeks and had planned to go to the Texas border. But when his family sent money, he heard that Tijuana was the safest option with his established Haitian community.

“It’s getting complicated, that’s why I came here where I can find work and live quietly, taking care of my family,” Exile said at the restaurant, painted in the colors of the Haitian flag.

He understands U.S. repression in Del Rio, where the Biden administration launched an expulsion campaign in Haiti on Sunday.

“I think people should wait and work in Mexico,” he said. “There are opportunities here, not as many as in the United States”

Pierre Wilthene and his wife agree. They operate the restaurant “Chris Kapab” or “God Willing” in Creole. They arrived in Tijuana five years ago. The two went to Brazil when the economy was booming before the 2014 World Cup.

“Things are fine here,” said Wilthene, who is also vice president of the Association for the Defense of Haitian Immigrants in Tijuana, which helps newcomers find housing, passes on donated furniture, clothing and toys, and guides Haitians to medical and public care in Mexico. school systems.

Yuliy Ramírez arrived in Tijuana five years after losing her job in Brazil, where she arrived in 2012. She enrolled at the University of Tijuana to earn a nursing degree.

“Mexico was a good choice for me, but I won’t deny that for many they could have a much better life in the US,” Ramirez said.

About 150,000 Haitians went to Chile from 2014 to 2018, many on charter flights to apply for a visa, and found work as street vendors, janitors, and construction workers. They lived largely in marginalized neighborhoods of the capital and suffered discrimination.

In April, a stricter immigration law came into force and the Chilean government began massive air deportations.

Now there are more Haitians moving through the Colombian city of Necocli, where migrants take boat rides to the Panama border to begin the dangerous journey through the jungle of the Darien Gap. In July, the city hosted more than 10,000 migrants, almost all Haitians.

Migrants are expected to stay in local hotels or houses, where they rent rooms for $ 6 to $ 10 a night. Numerous groups sleep under tarpaulins on the beach.

Panama’s security minister, Juan Pino, said Monday that last week his country still received between 2,500 and 3,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, arriving through the Darien breach.

From there, many have headed to Mexico, where some seek asylum in the southern city of Tapachula and live in camps.

Unlike Central Americans, Haitians have generally not been deported from Mexico. So far this year, 19,000 have applied for asylum in Mexico, a figure that has only been in second place by Hondurans. In the previous two years, only about 6,000 Haitians had applied each year.

But most in the past have decided to move toward the United States, though now some are weighing the risks.

The Biden administration plans to increase this week to seven flights a day in what may be the largest and fastest U.S. effort to eliminate migrants or refugees in decades.

Junior Jean lived in Chile for four years before arriving in Mexico at the makeshift camp under the Del Rio Bridge.

“Chile was bad for me,” said Jean, 32. “I slept on the street eating out of the trash. That’s what we were doing. There’s nothing.”


Lozano reported from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, and Spagat from San Diego. AP reporters Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile, Astrid Suarez and Manuel Rueda in Bogota, Colombia, Juan Zamorano in Panama City and Maria de la Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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