A community of Haitian migrants has been in Tijuana for nearly a decade. They’ve fled a devastating earthquake, a series of hurricanes, the financial collapse of their economy and now, deep political instability and violence, as an unpopular president tries to hold on to power.
Many Haitians feel as if they’re stuck in Tijuana, fearful that by crossing the border, they’ll be sent right back to Haiti, but unable to make a life for themselves in Mexico.
When a migrant camp was established in February at the El Chaparral port of entry in Tijuana, hundreds of Haitians set up tents, hoping that they would soon be allowed to declare asylum in the United States.
Dorlean Ito was one of them. He’d been living in Tijuana for a year.
“Haiti is my country and I love it, but it wasn’t possible to stay there. There are a bunch of criminals sitting around doing nothing."
“Haiti is my country and I love it, but it wasn’t possible to stay there. There are a bunch of criminals sitting around doing nothing,” he told KPBS in early March.
Ito had spent five years working in Chile, but he said the discrimination there against Black people was too intense. He decided in 2019 to try to get into the United States, even though he feared possibly being returned to Haiti.
“If they deport me, I won’t live in Haiti. I don’t have anything in Haiti. I don’t have family. I don’t have money to leave Haiti. That’s why I wanted to leave, but I’m still afraid, very afraid. I think, ‘If I go there, I’ll die. I’ll get killed. I’ll go hungry.’ Hunger is nothing. But being killed is something,” he said.
A rule known as Title 42 bars the entry of any asylum-seekers into the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Border Patrol has been immediately sending border-crossers back to Mexico or their countries of origin.
Since the beginning of the Biden administration, however, more children, families, and single adults have successfully been able to enter the country and continue their asylum claims from inside the United States. At the same time, interior immigration enforcement has been scaled back and deportations on the whole are down.
But that hasn’t held true for Haitian migrants. The Biden administration has removed more than 1,200 Haitians from the United States, more than during all of Trump’s final fiscal year in office.
Guerline Josef is the executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance. Since 2016, her organization has advocated for Haitians trying to avoid deportation to an unstable and dangerous country. Last month, her organization co-authored a new report on the impact that Title 42 has had on Haitian migrants.
“I don’t even understand how they are deporting people to Haiti right now,” Josef told KPBS. “But right now, it’s criminal for both the United States and Haiti to agree to send and receive people. When they land in Haiti, these people go in hiding.”
Josef led a group of Haitian Americans down to Tijuana last month, in an effort to connect with the Haitian asylum-seekers and make sure they’re safe.
What they found wasn’t reassuring. Haitians were leaving the camp, because they felt discriminated against by the Central American migrants.
“After a couple of weeks we started seeing some anti-Black sentiment growing within the camp. ... And increasingly, we have seen the vulnerability of Black migrants in Mexico, in Tijuana, the way they can be targeted, they cannot blend in. The moment they show up, they know they don’t belong there.”
“After a couple of weeks we started seeing some anti-Black sentiment growing within the camp,” she said. “And increasingly, we have seen the vulnerability of Black migrants in Mexico, in Tijuana, the way they can be targeted, they cannot blend in. The moment they show up, they know they don’t belong there.”
Christian Nester is a Haitian American lawyer, who works with Haitian Bridge Alliance and accompanied Josef to Tijuana last week. He says many Haitians have gone broke in Mexico.
“A lot of Haitians are stuck here [in Tijuana]. And their worker authorization has expired, so they don’t have any way to make money."
“A lot of Haitians are stuck here. And their worker authorization has expired, so they don’t have any way to make money,” he said, explaining that work authorizations for many migrants can only be renewed in Tapachula, a city on the southern border of Mexico.
He doesn’t believe that the treatment of Haitians in the American immigration system, or the role that the US has played in supporting the current regime in Haiti, has deterred anyone from coming to the US.
“Even with the checkered kind of history, the United States is the land of opportunity, and people really want the chance to live that American dream,” he said.
Many Haitians have jumped the border fence in recent weeks, tired of the racism and willing to risk being returned to Haiti.
Around the camp last week, Dorlean Ito was nowhere to be found.
Jean-Claude Jean is still holding out hope. He’s one of the last Haitians in the migrant encampment at El Chaparral. But even his patience is wearing thin.
“I think I’ll stay here just two or three weeks more. Then, well, I’ll cross. ... Whatever happens, I have to accept it. I don’t want to live like I’ve been living here.”
“I think I’ll stay here just two or three weeks more. Then, well, I’ll cross,” he said. “Whatever happens, I have to accept it. I don’t want to live like I’ve been living here.”
This story was originally published by KPBS.