Caught Between U.S. Policies and Instability at Home, Haitian Migrants in Tijuana Are in a State of Limbo

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Jasmine Aguilera (Time Magazine, July 22, 2021) reports about Haitian migration through Mexico.

Sainte Helene’s son has been missing for about a year and a half. She avoids eye contact as she recounts the story, cradling her arms with her back hunched forward. A Haitian community leader named John helps translate from Haitian Creole to Spanish while we sit in the home she’s made for herself in Little Haiti, a tiny village in the remote hills of Tijuana, Mexico.

Sainte Helene says she fled Haiti in 2007 because of the instability and violence she encountered in her home country. She and her son originally found themselves in Venezuela, where she gave birth to a second son. After the country unraveled into political and economic instability, the family of three decided to travel north with a group of other migrants in late 2019, to Tijuana, where Sainte Helene knew other Haitians had fled. By the time they arrived in Panama, Sainte Helene realized the family was traveling too slowly to keep up with the group because she was carrying a young child. She allowed her eldest son, 14 years old at the time in December of 2019, to travel ahead of her with a group of others. She says she lost sight of him after a few hours while they climbed over a steep Panamanian mountain. Sainte Helene and her youngest child arrived in Tijuana in August of 2020. To her terror, she has not been able to locate or make contact with her eldest son.

“In my dreams he’s back with me,” Sainte Helene says. This day of our interview, April 25, also happens to be her birthday. Sainte Helene is now 43. She agreed to an interview with TIME on the condition that her last name be withheld for fear of her safety in Tijuana.

“I feel terrible all of the time, I’m always thinking about my son,” Sainte Helene says. “I don’t know if he died along the way, or if he made it to Tijuana, or maybe he even made it to the U.S.”

After about 15 minutes, Sainte Helene tired of sharing her story and got up from her seat to continue cooking dinner for the dozen or so other Haitian migrants who live here in Little Haiti. It’s a fenced off community of concrete homes in Tijuana just a few yards from a church that is sheltering hundreds of mostly Central American migrants arriving to the border. Though the population in Little Haiti has started to decline in recent months as migrants have spread to other parts of Tijuana and the U.S.-Mexico border the Haitian community in Tijuana has grown in recent years as Haitians have increasingly settled in the U.S. and South America after more than a decade of political instability and natural disasters. An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Haitians have found themselves in Tijuana at some point since around 2015, according to the Haitian Bridge Alliance (HBA), a Southern California nonprofit that advocates for Haitian migrants in the U.S. and Mexico.

The community in Tijuana has come together in part because Black migrants in Mexico, Central America and South America have experienced frequent and pervasive racism. Here, there is some safety in numbers. Two signs greet you on the road into Little Haiti: one is a banner to let you know where you are—”Little Haiti” it reads in English, followed by “City of God,” in Spanish. The second sign is written in Spanish: “If you don’t live here, you cannot come in.”

While Haitian migrants have found themselves in many countries—such as the U.S., Canada, Brazil and the Dominican Republic—those who have found themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border are in a distressing state of limbo because of current U.S. immigration policies. Had they been in the U.S. in May, they would have been eligible to apply for Temporary Protected Status that would allow them to live and work in the country for 18 months. But living in Mexico, if they’re caught trying to illegally enter the U.S. or make a claim for asylum, they risk being expelled back to Haiti under Title 42, a Trump-era health measure that began in March 2020 and has remained in place under the Biden Administration. (Most people who are expelled are Central Americans who try to enter through Mexico, and are sent back to Mexico.) By HBA’s estimates, the Biden Administration has in a few months expelled more Haitians back to Haiti than during the entirety Trump Administration. According to research by HBA, which analyzed deportation flights to Haiti in partnership with the Quixote Center and the UndocuBlack Network, over 1,200 people had been expelled to Haiti between Feb. 1 and March 25 of 2021.

“U.S. policy has kept Haitian people from accessing the asylum process,” says Guerline Jozef, director of HBA. “From metering, to Title 42…the lives of these people were put in limbo due to U.S. policy and the lives of these people continue in limbo today as we speak.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not immediately return TIME’s request for comment.

Decades of instability

In the last decade, Haiti has suffered through natural disaster, political turmoil, economic decline, rising gang violence and outbreaks of disease ranging from cholera to COVID-19. Earlier this month, the already reeling country was shaken when Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated and the country’s leaders engaged in a contentious power struggle, culminating in Moïse-appointed Ariel Henry taking the reigns on Prime Minister to form a new government.

Haiti has become a predominately migrant-sending country, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a nonpartisan research institution, meaning more people emigrate from Haiti than immigrate to it. In 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of people—the Haitian government estimates as many as 300,000 were killed, though some estimates are smaller—setting in motion a mass migration to other parts of Latin America and the U.S. In preparation for the World Cup in 2014, thousands of Haitians were welcomed in Brazil to work, but found themselves unemployed and struggling when the World Cup was over. Throughout Latin America, Haitians and other Black migrants have faced nativism, racism and discrimination, blamed for everything from violence to natural disaster, according to MPI. Many have since journeyed north, to the U.S.-Mexico border, hoping to find a home in the U.S. Tijuana became a major port of entry for Haitian migrants around 2015, according to Jozef, who is also a Haitian immigrant herself, living in California. [. . .]

For full article, see

[Photo above by Joebeth Terriquez/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10969080b). Migrants of Haitian origin protest at the international gate of San Ysidro, Mexico, 21 October 2020. Hundreds of migrants protested near the Mexican border city of Tijuana demanding attention to their refugee requests in the United States, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Migrants call for attention at Mexico-US border, Tijuana – 21 Oct 2020.]

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