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Haitian Asylum-Seekers Face Discrimination In Tijuana Migrant Camp

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While much of the focus along the border has been on the arrival of Central Americans seeking asylum…. Haitians have also been fleeing violence, political instability, and racism in their journey to border cities like Tijuana.

Speaker 1: 00:00 While much of the focus along the border has been on the arrival of central Americans seeking asylum Haitians have also been fleeing violence, political instability, and racism, and their journey to border cities. Like Tiquana KPBS reporter max Rivlin Nadler tells us how black migrants are treated differently in every step of the asylum process.

Speaker 2: 00:22 A community of Haitian migrants has been into Quanah for nearly a decade, fleeing a devastating earthquake hurricanes, financial collapse, and now deep political instability and violence. As an unpopular president tries to hold onto power in Port-au-Prince. Many Haitians are 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 U S Jolyon Hito, who was one of them he'd been living in Tijuana for a year. [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 01:06 said that Haiti is a country and that he loves it, but it wasn't possible to stay there. There were too many criminals with nothing to do, you know, had spent five years working in Chile, but the discrimination there was intense. He was trying to get into the United States, even though he feared, possibly being returned to Haiti. That was, he loved to put that within an ad ID. He said, if they deport him, he wouldn't live in Haiti. He doesn't have anything there. He wouldn't have the money to leave, though. He's afraid if he gets sent there, he's worried. He'll get killed, which will be either a rule known as title 42 bars. The entry of any asylum seekers into the U S during the COVID-19 pandemic border patrol has been immediately sending border crossers back to Mexico or their countries since the beginning of the Biden administration. However, more children, families and single adults have been able to enter the us and continue their asylum claims from inside the United States. But that hasn't held true for Haitian migrants. The Biden administration has removed over 1200 Haitians from the United States. That's more than during all of Trump's final fiscal year in office. Grueling. Joseph 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

Speaker 1: 02:27 Right now is criminal for both the United States and Haiti, to agree, to send and receive people when, when they land in Haiti, those people go in hiding.

Speaker 2: 02:39 Joseph 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.

Speaker 1: 02:49 After a couple of weeks, we started seeing some entire black sentiment growing within the camp and then increasing what we have been saying, the vulnerability of black migrants in Mexico, the way that they can be targeted, they cannot blend in

Speaker 2: 03:09 Christian Nestor is a Haitian American lawyer who works with Haitian bridge Alliance. He says that many Haitians have gone broke in Mexico.

Speaker 3: 03:17 So a lot of patients are stuck here and their workers authorization has expired. So they don't really have any way to make any money.

Speaker 2: 03:26 He doesn't believe that the treatment of Haitians in the American immigration system or the role that the U S has played in supporting the current regime in Haiti has deterred anyone from coming to the U S

Speaker 3: 03:36 Even with the checkered kind of history. The United States is the land of opportunity. And people really want that chance to live that American dream.

Speaker 2: 03:45 Many Haitians have jumped the border fence in recent weeks, tired of the racism and willing to risk being returned to Haiti asking around the camp last week [inaudible] was nowhere to be found. Joan closing is still holding out hope. He's one of the last Haitians in the migrant encampment and El Chapo, Raul, but even his patience is wearing thin

Speaker 3: 04:08 [inaudible].

Speaker 2: 04:09 He says, he'll stay in Tijuana, another two or three weeks only. Then he'll cross. Whatever happens to him, he'll have to accept it. He doesn't want to live the way he's had to live here.

Speaker 1: 04:21 Joining me now is KPBS reporter max and Adler max. Welcome. Good to be here. So tell me more about the conditions that are forcing Haitians to Tiquana.

Speaker 2: 04:32 I've been leaving the Island for many years, but it really intensified after the earthquake in early 2010, that followed a hurricane hurricane Matthew, which intensified people leaving. And lately there's been a constitutional crisis where a unpopular president right now is refusing to leave office claiming that, you know, they have another year in office. The United States is supporting his claim, but people on the streets in Haiti are rising up against him. That has sparked a new wave of political violence. Uh, so people have been leaving Haiti in many years, and right now a lot of people are very fearful of having to return there.

Speaker 1: 05:11 So why haven't Haitian migrants been able to declare asylum here in the U S so for,

Speaker 2: 05:17 At least since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a code in place title 42, which restricts access of any asylum seekers into the U S that's been lessened, uh, under the Biden administration where children are now allowed in. Um, and some families have been allowed in, but on the whole Haitian migrants have been denied the ability either through remain in Mexico, uh, which, you know, really only applied for the most part to central Americans or other, you know, migration policies. Haitians are almost always excluded.

Speaker 1: 05:49 And you mentioned the Biden administration has removed more than 1200 Haitians from the U S which is more than all of Trump's final fiscal year in office. Why is the treatment of migrants from Haiti so different here in the United States?

Speaker 2: 06:03 The treatment of migrants of Haiti is in line with the treatment of all block asylum seekers and all black immigrants in the U S which is, they're just simply subject to higher bond amounts when they're in immigration detention, uh, they're denied their asylum claims more often. It's a, the inequities that we see in our own criminal justice system bears out with the very much intertwined immigration system. So people are removed and deported just much higher rates for simply, uh, being black,

Speaker 1: 06:30 This unequal treatment within the American immigration system. Isn't new America has always been quick to deport Haitians or turn them back around. Can you talk about where that stems from?

Speaker 2: 06:41 If you look at other Caribbean migration, Cuban migrants have been treated differently. Um, and again, this goes back to skin color. There is a long legacy of immigration and customs enforcement and border patrol using Haiti as a testing ground for retributive, uh, policies right after the earthquake. Um, in 2010, the first thing that the United States did was have the coast guard set up a perimeter around the Island to make sure that people couldn't leave it. Um, and that is something that is in line with how border patrol and immigration and customs enforcement has viewed Haitian migrants and black migrants in general.

Speaker 1: 07:20 Hmm. Tell me more about the anti-black sentiment within the camp at the Al Chapparal port of entry, and Tiquana, in what ways are black migrants experiencing racism and discrimination in Mexico?

Speaker 2: 07:32 When I was there on the first day that the camp began to be set up, it was at least 400, uh, Haitian migrants. And then over the weeks that number has been diminishing and I've talked to people and they've been denied, um, you know, abilities to enroll their kids in the, in the makeshift school. That's been set up there. They've been excluded from food distribution, from toy distribution, uh, by church groups, uh, that are providing aid. So it's basic discrimination that all, unfortunately, a lot of these migrants are used to from having spent years in central and South America on their way to the U S

Speaker 1: 08:08 Wow. And so how are Haitian migrants dealing with that? How are they dealing with the racism coming from people in Mexico, the American immigration system, and then the real consequences of being sent back to Haiti?

Speaker 2: 08:20 Yeah, I mean, they're being put in a pretty impossible situation. Many of them are making the decision to jump the fence and come to the U S and claim asylum. Uh, some people have left the camp in Tijuana and called back weeks later, or even days later in Haiti saying I was removed that quickly. Don't do it well, others, very few. I should note have been allowed to continue their asylum claim from inside the us. Uh, so that gives people, hope that if you cross the border outside of a port of entry, which is not open right now to asylum seekers, there is a chance, a slim chance that you be able to find some semblance of safety in the U S um, very few people have, um, decided to stay in Tijuana longterm. There is a community there, but if you ask them, if you go down the line and ask them, would you rather be stuck in Tijuana or come to the U S of course, they're going to say, I'd come to the U S even people I spoke with one restaurant owner who had a restaurant in Tijuana, he'd been in Tijuana so long, he served Haitian food.

Speaker 2: 09:21 Um, and he was there on the first day that people thought they would be allowed to enter the United States for asylum, because it's really not even a choice for them. They want to enter the United States.

Speaker 1: 09:31 So what are advocacy groups doing? I mean, in what ways are they able to help? So groups

Speaker 2: 09:37 It's like the Haitian bridge Alliance bodgie, which is an advocacy group for black immigrants. Um, they're really trying to get people legal help once they enter the United States to stop these deportations and removals. When people do go into immigration custody to get people out of immigration custody, if there's a high bond and to secure, um, temporary protected status for Haitians, given the ongoing political crisis in their country. And I should add that that's actually a bipartisan issue. Senator Republican senators like Marco Rubio are actually in favor of temporary protected status for Haitians dealing with the current, uh, political crisis. And, uh, that's something that the Biden campaign and Biden himself promised to Haitians when he was campaigning in Florida this past year, and has yet to move on.

Speaker 1: 10:28 Hmm. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Rivlin Nadler, max. Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you.

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