Wednesday, October 20, 2021

‘We had to go through a lot to get here’: Haitian expatriate’s harrowing journey to US border

DEL RIO, Texas, October 1 (WNN) — After leaving her native Haiti for Chile in 2018, Nicole struggled for years to find full-time work. Some days he worked as a construction worker, other days he cleaned lawns or houses.

During his time there, he met his future wife, who also came to Chile from Haiti in search of work. In August, after becoming pregnant and having little work options, the two left Chile, following thousands of Haitians who made the dangerous journey from South America to Del Rio, Texas, in search of asylum.

En route, 26-year-old Nicole said that he and his wife, who did not want to be interviewed, saw fellow migrants washed away while crossing a river and a female migrant raped by an armed gang in Panama.

“We had to go through a lot to get here,” said Nicole, who asked to be identified only by her first name for fear of harming her chances of living in the United States.

Since September 9, 30,000 Haitians have arrived in Del Rio – migrants said they chose the smaller border town because they heard it was safer than other routes – and at one time more than 15,000 were forced to camp under the international bridge. When their numbers overwhelmed immigration officials.

The reason why thousands of Haitians decided to immigrate to the United States now differs.

Federal officials claim there has been a misunderstanding by Haitians about qualifying for a temporary protected status following the July 7 assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Mosse. But this status was granted only to Haitians who were in the United States before 29 July.

However, Haitian migrants interviewed said they decided to leave now because jobs had dried up in Chile and other South American countries – where many relocated after the 2010 earthquake – as a result of the pandemic. Some could not legalize their immigration status to be able to work legally in Chile, others grew tired of not being able to feed their children and some said racism towards black people drove them out.

A week earlier, after the Biden administration deported 5,000 Haitians and more than 12,000 others to federal immigration facilities in the Southwest, all immigrants were removed from the makeshift camp on the Texas side of the Rio Grande . Some were released in Del Rio to be reunited with family members already in the United States until they received asylum hearings in immigration court.

Another 8,000 Haitians returned to Mexico fearing that if they stayed in the camp they would be deported to Haiti. The Mexican government has offered them work permits and flights for those who decide to return to Haiti.

Nicole and his wife were among the lucky ones: At the bridge they were given a yellow stamp by immigration officials—literally a ticket to the United States. He said he was not told why he was allowed to claim asylum while thousands of others were turned down.

Last week, Nicole, a skinny man dressed in Nike sneakers with blue jeans and a white T-shirt, waited with his wife and about 20 other Haitians at a gas station next to a charter bus station. They were headed to San Antonio, where many of them would catch flights to other parts of the country. Nicole said that he and his wife are moving to Ohio, where they have a cousin.

As they waited, some patrons offered them food or Gatorade. Others appeared clearly annoyed. A man who was entering the shop with a boy covered his nose with his T-shirt and waved his hand across his face, implying that Haitians smelled. The boy imitated him.

“I’m used to it,” said another Haitian expatriate in Spanish. “I’ve seen a lot in Chile. It doesn’t bother me anymore, I’ve experienced worse.”

Nicole and his wife said they had a very bad experience during their one-and-a-half month trip to 10 countries.

More migrants are also choosing to leave Chile because that country this month announced restrictions on how migrants can legally work there. Nicole said she remembers standing in line for a construction job between a group of Chileans and Haitians when a manager told Haitians to go home and hired Chileans. He said such incidents prompted him and his wife to leave. He knew that a group of Haitians in his neighborhood were planning to travel to the United States and decided to follow them.

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“We were not wanted in Chile,” he said.

The couple started off with a bus ride from Chile to Peru. From there, they took another bus to Ecuador and Colombia, staying in touch with a cousin and a family friend in Ohio via WhatsApp. The cousin used to give money to the couple for food and hotels.

Then they came up against the Darien Gap, a 66-mile roadless road of forest, mountains and rivers between Colombia and Panama.

The Darren Gap has been a passageway for thousands of migrants – and criminals often await them. Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian group, has recorded nearly 200 rapes against migrants since their arrival in May, providing medical care to migrants on the Panama side of the border.

Nicole said it took them about a week to cross the forest on foot and by canoe. As they were crossing a river, he said he saw two people being swept away by the stream while they were trying to cross. His group was then stopped by a group of 40 armed men.

They started taking money and other goods from the migrants. Some of them raped a pregnant woman. Nicole said he was worried that his wife was going to be raped too, but once he gave them the money, the men left him alone.

“I didn’t do anything because I was scared,” he said.

Once they left the woods, they said they continued by bus through Central America and eventually reached Mexico.

They said they arrived by bus in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Acua and walked from the shallow Rio Grande to Del Rio on September 19. They stayed under the international bridge for two nights before immigration officials gave them a yellow ticket and a date. appear in court.

Jean Eddie St. Paul, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, said that after decades of political instability and poverty in Haiti, Haitians had moved into such large groups. St. Paul, who is also the founding director of the CUNY Haitian Studies Institute, said the August earthquake and the July assassination of Haiti’s president are among the country’s most recent tragedies.

In the 1990s, the Clinton administration negotiated a new trade deal with Haiti that subsidized American rice farmers selling their grain to Haiti. St Paul said it essentially killed Haiti’s rice farming industry, causing massive job losses.

The former president would later tell Congress in 2010 that this was a mistake. “It may be good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it hasn’t worked,” Clinton said. “I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost ability to produce rice crops in Haiti to feed those people I do.”

Taisha Sentil, legislative and communications director for the San Diego-based Haitian Bridge Alliance, said the trauma experienced by many Haitians fleeing South America during their recent trip to the Texas-Mexico border has been compounded by the Biden administration’s unwelcome response. Organization that helps Haitians and other black immigrants.

“When people take that route, with some people crossing 11 borders without money, food or water, it shows their level of desperation,” he said, adding images of thousands of people under the Del Rio bridge. Something that will leave a stain on this administration forever.”

Nicole said she is grateful they survived the trip, and that she wants to leave those harrowing experiences in the past.

“Things are better here for immigrants, right?” “I just want to work, find consistent jobs and find stability,” Nicole said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune. Read the original here.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom that informs and engages Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at


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