Some left in search of work. To avoid violence or racial discrimination in other countries. But many believe that ‘there is nothing to return to.’
DEL RIO, Texas – They’re arrived this week by thousands of Haitians who heard about an easier route into the United States. In what appeared to be an endless procession across the shallow waters of the Rio Grande, they carried mattresses, fruit, diapers and blankets with provisions to tide them over as they waited their turn to enter the Americas.
For so many people, it has been a travel year in the making.
“A friend of mine asked me to cross over here. I heard it was easy,” said 25-year-old Haitian Mackenson, who spoke on condition that his last name would not be published. He and his pregnant wife had traveled from Tapachula, Mexico, near the country’s border with Guatemala, where they had been living in Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Panama for the previous three years after stopping. “It took us two months to get here on foot and by bus.”
This week, the couple joined an estimated 14,000 other migrants who have converged in the border community of Del Rio, a boom that has overwhelmed local officials and authorities and led to a staggering spike in border crossings this year . On Friday morning, as the summer sun went down, the couple had a relaxing moment in the shade of the Del Rio International Bridge, which quickly turned into a crowded platform for expatriates to sit and relax. Had fought for a patch of dirt. .
As of Friday evening, federal officials had closed the bridge’s entrance and were routing traffic to Eagle Pass, Texas, 57 miles away, saying it was necessary to “respond to urgent safety and security needs” by the floods. and would “protect the national interest”.
The increase in Haitian migration began in the months after President Biden took office and was quickly followed by former President Donald J. Trump’s strictest immigration policies began to reverse, which was interpreted by many as a sign that the United States would be more welcoming of immigrants. In May, the administration extended temporary protected status to the 150,000 Haitians already living in the country. But tens of thousands have since attempted to enter the United States, despite not qualifying for the program.
“Misinformation, misinformation and misinformation may have created a false sense of hope,” said Guerlain M. Joseph, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an organization that works with migrants.
Mr Biden’s tenure has coincided with a sharp decline in Haiti’s political and economic stability, leaving parts of its capital under the control of gangs and forcing thousands to flee their homes. The assassination of Haiti’s president and this summer’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake have pushed people to leave the country. Shortly after the assassination, hundreds of Haitians flocked to the US embassy in Port-au-Prince, many of them with packed suitcases and young children, after false rumors spread on social media that the Biden administration was granting humanitarian visas to Haitians in need. Was.
Most of the Haitians in Mexico – a country that has intercepted nearly 4,000 this year – were not coming directly from Haiti, but from South America, where, like McKenson, they were already living and working, Mexicans. According to a top official in the Ministry of External Affairs. The number of Haitians traveling north across the border separating Colombia and Panama – often by crossing the treacherous forest known as the Darien Gap – has also risen in recent years, rising from just 420 in 2018 in August this year. 42,300 till date. According to the Government of Panama.
“We are dealing with this new type of migration, mainly Haitians from Brazil and Chile,” said Roberto Velasco, chief official for North America at Mexico’s foreign ministry. “They are mainly looking for jobs, they come from third countries so repatriation is difficult.”
After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, thousands of Haitians moved south to Chile and Brazil in search of jobs in the two richest countries in South America. To get there, many made an arduous land journey across the continent through the Amazon and the Andes.
Humanitarian visas were offered to many in both countries, which required low-wage workers, but this welcoming trend faded because of economic instability in the region, as well as a growing backlash towards immigrants. extended.
Haitian mass migration to Brazil, the largest nation in South America, began to increase in 2011, peaking at around 17,000 in 2018.
But as the pandemic battered Brazil and other South American economies, work opportunities have proved increasingly scarce: About 500 Haitians found formal jobs in Brazil in the first five months of this year, compared with the same period compared to about 2,000. In 2019, according to the latest migration data from Brazil.
In Chile, the exodus of Haitians has also been driven by the government’s increasingly restrictive immigration policy. President Sebastian Pinera has tightened border controls and visa rules and increased deportations of undocumented migrants after their countries were overwhelmed by an influx of Venezuelans and Haitians fleeing violence and violence.
Many Haitians also suffer discrimination in Chile, a country with no significant black population a decade ago. “Anti-Black racism is one of the main driving forces of people leaving Chile in search of security,” said Ms Józef.
According to the country’s migration data, the number of visas issued to Haitians in Chile has dropped from a peak of 126,000 in 2018 to just 3,000 so far this year. In fact, more Haitians have gone this year than have come to Chile, dramatically reversing a pre-pandemic trend.
“The movement of Haitians from Chile and other South American countries shows that migration is not just a simple journey once you’re gone and then you’re done,” says Chris Ramon, an immigration consultant based in Washington, D.C. Said, “People are making a far more complicated trip to the United States, it’s not like there’s an earthquake in Haiti, so people are going to flee.”
Until recently, Haitians were gathering in the thousands in the Mexican cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, on the other side of Macallan and Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley, after hearing that families with children were not being returned after crossing the border. Was. Rio Grande. Some were allowed into the country; Others were returned to Mexico, only adding to the confusion.
“The movement is often based on rumours,” Ms Józef said. “Last week, if you had asked me, I would say they were in Reynosa and Matamoros. This week it’s Del Rio. These people are extremely desperate. And they know there’s nothing to go back to in Haiti. “
Although Haitians still represent a small percentage of those who cross the border – about 4 percent of the migrants encountered by border agents in August – their numbers have increased in recent months. About 28,000 Haitians have been intercepted by Border Patrol at the US-Mexico border in the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30, compared to 4,395 in 2020 and 2,046 in 2019.
About one million Haitians live in the United States, with the largest numbers concentrated in Miami, Boston, and New York. But Haitian communities have blossomed in Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina and California.
This week, the United States resumed deportation flights to Haiti under Title 42, an emergency public health order that has empowered the government to seal the border and turn away migrants during the pandemic. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday repatriated nearly 90 Haitians, including families.
The move drew sharp rebuke from immigration advocates and lawmakers, who said the administration should offer Haitians an opportunity to apply for legal protection and asylum rather than repatriate them to their troubled home country just a month after the earthquake.
“It is cruel and wrong to return anyone to Haiti now,” said Steve Forester, immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
But “Haitians must return to their country to prevent these types of situations from developing”, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors curbs on immigration. “If any Haitian who makes it to the US border is home free, more people are going to do it. If you have lived in Brazil or Chile for years after you had a child born here, you are ineligible for asylum. You were firmly settled in another country. “
On Friday, on the spillway north of the Del Rio International Bridge, a two-lane road that connects the small bicultural town to Mexico, migrants became restless in growing crowds as they waited to be processed by border agents. They walked around the camp, which was filling up with hundreds of new arrivals on Friday, and crossed the Rio Grande to Ciudad Acua, where they bought as much hot food and cold drinks as they could.
Near the bridge, enterprising migrants set up shop, shouting their wares and prices. It felt like an open-air market, and by noon, piles of dirt were scattered about the dirt field. As the sun rose, so did the dust, which left a thin layer on clothes, cell phones, and bodies.
The mood, while mostly solemn, was also jovial at times. Border agents watched, migrants chatted with each other, joked and occasionally took a refreshing swim in the calm waters of the river.
Not far from the camp, 29-year-old Aung Ladson Fransillon washed his clothes outside a shelter, where he was taken after being processed by border agents. He had left Haiti with his wife and little girl just a month earlier, embarking on an odyssey that took them through many countries, on foot through forests, across deep rivers and on long, tiring treks.
He arrived in Del Rio four days earlier, and was surprised to see thousands of other Haitians.
For the first time in a long time, at the shelter with so many other dreamers, Mr. Francillon felt optimistic about his family’s future. He was hoping to board a plane to California, possibly later this week, where he would meet a sister.
“We hope there will be a new beginning,” he said. “We all want the same thing, a better life.”
James Dobbins And Edgar Sandoval report from del rio, Natalie Kittroeff And Anatoly Kurmanev more from Mexico City Mary Jordan from Los Angeles. Oscar Lopez Contributed to research.