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Risking It All To Enter The US

 September 27, 2021 at 11:03 AM PDT

Speaker 1: (00:00)

This week on round table desperation at the border. Haitians are the latest flashpoint in America's asylum system marked in recent years by negligence, if not outright violence, how do they and others in their position persevere. And what does our response say about America's role in addressing the corruption and climate change? Fueling a new era of migration. I'm Christina, Kim and KPBS Roundtable starts. Now.

Speaker 2: (00:26)


Speaker 3: (00:37)

What I saw depicted about, um, those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they were horrible. And I fully support what is happening right now, which is a thorough investigation into exactly what is going on there. Um, but human beings should never be treated that way.

Speaker 1: (00:58)

And yet, here we are with the new administration facing another humanitarian crisis at the border instead of brown children and their families sleeping in cages with Mylar blankets, we're seeing mostly black adults, some caring children, and what few possessions they have across the Rio Grande day only to be met by angry border patrol agents on horseback, as mentioned by vice president, Kamala Harris, the images are startling, but instead of an apology and a chance at asylum, these Haitian migrants are being deported by the thousands back to a broken country. They're trying to escape this week on round table. This story is our starting point for a wider discussion on how we treat our closest neighbors America's role in fueling their Exodus and the role of colorism in determining who is granted asylum, locally groups like the Haitian bridge Alliance, a San Diego nonprofit that provides resources to Haitian and Haitian Americans have been mobilizing to lend support to Haitian asylum seekers. Nicole Phillips is the legal director at the Haitian bridge Alliance. She's been in Texas all week and she joins us now from Macallan. Welcome, Nicole,

Speaker 4: (02:04)

Thank you so much for inviting me.

Speaker 1: (02:05)

As I mentioned, you've been in Texas this week. Can you tell us what's happening there now as the story develops and how are the people that you've been able to connect with doing,

Speaker 4: (02:15)

Oh, the people that we've connected with, they're really struggling. They're confused. They don't understand what's happening. They've come here on long journeys. These are not people that just arrived in Texas. Excuse me, that arrived in, in Mexico. Many of them have been living at the U S Mexico border for years trying to get across, but it's been closed to them. So they've come on these long, long journeys from Haiti through food, Sheila and Brazil, where many lived for several years up to Mexico. And now, you know, they were kept in these, these terrible conditions in Del Rio, where it was got up to 105 degrees this week, um, and the sweltering heat, and now many of them are deported. So it's confusion and frustration and horror at the thought of returning back to her

Speaker 1: (03:06)

On Thursday, the us special Envoy for Haiti, Daniel foot resigned. He said he didn't want to be associated with the way Haitians are being deported. Do you think this will lead to the administration making any changes?

Speaker 4: (03:18)

I certainly hope so. I can't imagine how wouldn't the special Envoy Daniel foot really put forward. What we have all thought that the U S foreign policy was in Haiti, which is sort of a puppet sort of using a Haiti as a puppet and not allowing the Haitian people to lead themselves, interfering with elections in this case, pushing for elections when the country is not ready for elections, putting in and posing a prime minister, that is not the will of the people. And now with these deportations to en masse, these mass deportations to Haiti that the Haitian government is not able to properly receive, does not have the capacity to process these hundreds, if not thousands of, uh, of Haitian nationals coming back, it really is sort of a failed policy in Haiti. And this is an example of this type of policy that is created the root causes of the instability of Haiti and why Haitians are forced to flee. It's a political instability that has in part been caused by us foreign policy.

Speaker 1: (04:36)

The images we saw at the border, as I mentioned, they were unsettling with many drawing comparison to old illustrations of slave patrols. And with that, it brought to the center of the need to address what you've called anti-blackness in the U S immigration and asylum policies. Can you say more on what you mean and how you see that specifically and how Haitian asylum seekers are being treated

Speaker 4: (04:58)

Well, black immigrants in general, tend to receive much more discrimination within the immigration system. There are lower numbers of asylum success rates. There are higher incidences of solitary confinement and other forms of harsh punishment. The bonds are higher to get out of detention for black migrants. So this is just sort of a tip of the iceberg of anti-black discrimination throughout the immigration system. With respect to Haitians, they have faced decades of discrimination with the goal of the us government to keep them off of us soil from interdictions at sea, for boats, with people fleeing the [inaudible] regime in the 1970s and eighties to opening Guantanamo bay to receive Haitians in the 1990s. And now we're seeing this camp in Del Rio, which really is sort of this mass detention of 12,000 migrants, um, targeted because the us government does not want to allow all these Haitians onto us soil, even though they are facing conditions back in Haiti, that they cannot return to the government cannot take them. So it is an example of anti-black racism in our immigration system.

Speaker 1: (06:14)

And back to those harrowing images. Secretary Majorca said the images don't reflect the border patrol or the United States as a whole. Here's part of his comments on Wednesday,

Speaker 5: (06:24)

I do want to address are the images are that, um, emanated from, uh, Del Rio, Texas over the last several days and correctly, and necessarily, uh, were met with, uh, our nation's, because they do not reflect who we are as a country, nor do we do. They reflect who the United States customs and border protection is

Speaker 1: (06:51)

Hear this, but at the same time, it just kind of seems like this keeps happening in some way or another. Do you think there's a disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality?

Speaker 4: (07:01)

Most certainly. I think people, if you interviewed black migrants, who'd been stained, they would say that they regularly experienced, um, anti black racism from guards, hatred towards them are treated poorly. This is something w you know, we see this in hearings, asylum hearings, where people where the asylum officers don't think that Haitians or other black migrants are credible. Um, I think there is this strong animus that we see every single day in the immigration system. And so these photos are just reflective of a system that we already know to be discriminatory.

Speaker 1: (07:40)

What's next for you in the coming days, as we mentioned, you are in Texas and working with asylum seekers,

Speaker 4: (07:46)

We're really monitoring, doing a lot of human rights monitoring, trying to figure out the assessment, the legal needs, connecting lawyers from around the country. There's been an outpouring of support for Haitian migrants, which has been very heartwarming. So trying to patch that in, we are, as you mentioned, are based in San Diego, we have temporary protected status TPS clinics in the San Diego area. We're still trying to serve our community in the San Diego area, but of course, we're very distracted by what's happening in, in Del Rio. But, but many of those folks from Del Rio, hopefully we'll be able to come to San Diego. Families are being able to be paroled in right now, some families and pregnant women. So we're hoping that they can join our community in, in San Diego. And we can continue to provide them with integration services.

Speaker 1: (08:34)

I've been talking with Nicole Phillips legal director for the Haitian bridge Alliance. Thank you, Nicole. My

Speaker 4: (08:40)

Pleasure. Thank you so much.

Speaker 1: (08:42)

The images coming out of Texas depicting border patrol, halting Haitian asylum seekers on horses, their lawn bridals poised to strike have caused a national outcry. And as we just discussed a conversation about the role anti-blackness plays in the country's immigration and asylum policies, the photos also remind us of just how rugged and often perilous the us Southern border landscape truly is whether it's a river in Texas or the mountains here in San Diego county, people are willing to risk their lives in dangerous conditions to enter the U S for a better life. Many times it's not an official port of entry or even a fence. That's the toughest barrier. Harsh unforgiving nature picks up where arbitrary geographic lines leap off Kate Morrissey who covers immigration for the San Diego union Tribune recently hiked through a weld traversed migrant passage trail in the old time mountains. And she joins us now. Hello, Kate, hi, you and a handful of other reporters hiked part of OTM mountain. That's often used by migrants crossing from Mexico. It's very difficult terrain. As you wrote in your reporters notebook, where people often get hurt while you were out there, what really struck you the most?

Speaker 6: (09:52)

There were a couple of things first is that there's no official path. There's no sort of maintained trail. Like when you think to yourself, oh, I'm going to go hike to potato chip rock, a common hiking landmark here in San Diego. You're on a trail that's maintained by, you know, different organizations or agencies so that people can walk on it safely, um, that does not exist up, oh, tie, mountain, you're following paths that, um, exists solely because of how many people have walked on them, but they, they fork and they disappear and they're not very well maintained. So all of a sudden, you know, you find yourself having to climb a giant Boulder in order to figure out where, where the path goes or it disappears. And then you're just cutting through very thick brush without very much visibility or any real sense of, of what direction you're headed.

Speaker 6: (10:46)

And if you pause for just a second, the person in front of you disappears. So it can be just, just in terms of navigating directionally, where you're going. It can be very challenging. One of the other things with that too, is that the footing is very slippery because the there's a lot of like loose rocks in the soil. And so as you're walking, you're sort of wobbly and it's very easy to see, like, you know, if you, if you miss step or, or hit the, a rock in the wrong way, like you could very easily hurt your ankle or your knee, um, which, you know, itself is not a life-threatening injury. But then when you add in the extreme temperatures on the mountain, but you know, the mountains sort of separate San Diego from the desert. And so they get very extreme temperatures on the mountain and putting, putting all of that together. Somebody who's out there for several days because they can no longer move and they've been abandoned. It can become a life-threatening situation pretty quickly. Your story

Speaker 1: (11:40)

Includes pictures of a sandal, food wrappers, and kind of other, just stuff from daily life. That's just left behind on the trail while you were retracing, those steps, you know, this kind of geography of migration. I know you were thinking of all the people you've interviewed as an immigration reporter. Do you think having hiked even just a part of this trail kind of helped you understand your sources better? Did it kind of reframe the way that you've reported these stories?

Speaker 6: (12:06)

I think it gave me a deeper appreciation for how difficult this is. And at the same time, it reminded me of how much I cannot know what that experience is because of sort of the privileges that I have. And even the privileged way in which I was, was doing this Trek. You know, we had border patrol agents guiding us. They were leading us. They were in the middle of the group. They were behind the group, you know, making sure that nobody got lost, they weren't going to leave or abandoned any of us. I had really solid hiking gear, including, you know, a hydro pack with plenty of water and electrolytes and snacks and, and hiking boots. And most people who are, who are making this journey, don't have those things and don't have access to those things, or even necessarily know that they're going to meet those things when they get to this part of the journey, they're just, you know, following word of mouth or fall, or going with different smuggling organizations who don't tell them exactly what to expect. And so I don't know that I'll ever be able to know exactly what it's like, but I definitely have a greater appreciation for how difficult,

Speaker 1: (13:19)

Right. I know you note that privilege, even in your story, right? This idea of like, you're not even doing the full Trek, you had a full night's sleep the night before. And unlike a lot of these migrants and asylum seekers, you know exactly how your trail was going to end and where you were going to sleep that night. So I completely understand the privilege and also kind of how harrowing it can be for a reporter to insert yourself in the story. I know when other immigration reporters have, you know, staged a border crossing, there's been a lot of pushback. Why do you insert yourself in this story? Why create this reporter's notebook? Why did you think it was important to do

Speaker 6: (13:54)

Well? This experience was something that seemed like it was worth sharing. You know, I felt like I learned something by doing this hike, but I was sort of at a loss for how to, how to explain that without talking about something that I had done. And so it was this very sort of rare instance. This is like, you know, the first time I've written about something and the first person to publish in the newspaper. And so it was this very rare instance of that, where I sort of became the vehicle through which you could see the landscape and you could see what this Trek, what this trail sort of feels like when you're walking on it

Speaker 1: (14:36)

Program this week is really driven by the situation involving Haitian asylum seekers. You've reported extensively, both on asylum, as well as you know, the Haitian community. Have you heard any reactions from your sources this week, um, about the news or just what's what's happening in Haiti, that's forcing more people to leave.

Speaker 6: (14:56)

So we've seen, I mean, we've seen migration from Haiti for a long time, pretty much the entire time that I've been covering immigration on the border, which I started doing in 2016. There's been stories about Haitians arriving at our border. There is also a big Haitian community in Tijuana. There has been for a number of years and there's sort of ups and downs in the community as far as how much hope people have of, of being able to cross to this side, to, to, you know, join the family. They were trying to reach here. Many people left Haiti long ago and spent time either in Brazil or Chile before deciding to try to come to the United States. And then you also meet folks who have fled the country more recently. There's been just, just in the time that I've been covering this, there have been hurricanes earthquakes this year, the president was assassinated. You know, there's, there's a lot of conditions in the Haiti that are creating unsafe situations for people. So I think it's likely that we'll continue to see people on the move from Haiti and how our country reacts to that may, may influence, you know, where, where they end up going. But I don't think this is something that's going to stop anytime soon because of what's happening back there.

Speaker 1: (16:14)

I've been speaking with Kate Morrissey. She covers immigration for the San Diego union Tribune. Thank you, Kate. Thank you. The borderlands are a complex and sometimes contradictory space for those seeking asylum or a better life in the United States. The journey as we just discussed can be harming difficult, seemingly impenetrable, but for others who have long called the San Diego Mexico border, their home front, that ethos through and through cross border life, the constant travel back and forth between nations creates its own culture and way of life. Our colleagues at the KPBS podcast, port of entry, tell these stories better than anyone. They recently put out a call out for people to share their experiences.

Speaker 7: (16:56)

Uh, hi, uh, my name is feather Travis. I was listening to NPR and they mentioned that you guys are looking for a kind of older stories. I have, I think, kind of unique one I'm from Texas graduated law school came out to become an immigration attorney, uh, out here in San Diego. Then I basically live in Tijuana and I cross every day also. Uh, me and my friends started a 5 0 1 C3 called fee of return. It's a nonprofit that connects refugees in from the Tijuana migrant shelters with attorneys from San Diego.

Speaker 1: (17:23)

When we heard that we knew we needed to follow up with that voice. And Beto Chavez is actually here to give us some of that first person perspective on that cross-border life and the work that he does. Hello, Pedro, thanks for having me. COVID 19 travel restrictions have really complicated cross border life. The border remains closed for non-essential travel for non us citizens through at least October 21st. How does this closure impact you and your daily life? Uh, you know, personally,

Speaker 8: (17:50)

The border closures and the travel restrictions never impacted me because I'm a us citizen and impacted a lot of people who weren't people with travel visas and that sort of thing. But I do remember when this first started, I wasn't sure whether I would be allowed to return to, uh, to Tiquana where my apartment was. Uh, I remember the day that president Trump and the president Lopez Obrador announced the restrictions, and I got like 12 text messages that day, and everybody was concerned. Wondering whether I could go back to San Diego and immediately I was like, well, I'm an immigration attorney. I know the answer to this. Of course I can go with, to San Diego. But then I started to think if I traveled into San Diego, would I be allowed back into Mexico to my apartment? And I asked other immigration attorneys asked everybody and nobody really knew the answer to that. So for the first month of the pandemic, when restrictions were first in place, we weren't sure whether Mexico would, you know, uh, enforce it and that the travel restrictions and whether I would be allowed back in

Speaker 1: (18:43)

You're living at the Havana. Now, what are these closures doing for your neighborhood? The businesses you frequent

Speaker 8: (18:49)

Here in Antigua, the businesses I frequent are mainly tacos and burritos dance. So as far as it hasn't really affected that very much as far as having to go into Dewana. I mean, it's a San Diego. Um, I can only remember that, you know, the pizza places in San Diego were closed during the pandemic during the first half of it. But like Tiguan has delicious food from all over the world, but for some reason they can't do pizza, right? I mean, I'm going to get some hate for that, but the San Diego, but

Speaker 1: (19:18)

Going out on a limb right now, Pedro Chavez.

Speaker 8: (19:21)

Yeah. That's the only thing that they do, right? And I've had 14 different pizzas from different places all over to Kuala. And honestly, I hate to say it, but the best pizza in Tijuana is little Caesars.

Speaker 1: (19:30)

You heard in your voicemail, you work with people who are a little more concerned than things other than pizza and tacos. They they've got a lot of bigger problems. Do you feel the push and pull of acknowledging the privileges you have in the ability to travel freely yet? You're also working to help those who just don't have those same rights. We're in fact trying to cross the United.

Speaker 8: (19:50)

Yeah. I definitely do feel privileged that I can enter the United States at any time. It's not so much that I can enter back and forth. If I had to pick, I would always pick the United States. It's just a safer country overall. It's it has more opportunities than pretty much any country in the world. What I would say is the people that I'm trying to help here, their, their intention isn't to be able to travel freely. They just want to be safe. They want to safely enter the United States and they want to safely reside there because the countries that they're fleeing from are basically trying to kill them. Um, I, my organization and me, we, we deal exclusively with asylum seekers who are fleeing government persecution, travel. Isn't their concern, whether traveling freely, their concern is just traveling one time into United States and safely residing there where they won't be persecuted by a hostile government.

Speaker 1: (20:38)

You started the nonprofit that you're talking about, fear of return, which is all volunteer run. And like you just said, it helps asylum seekers find legal aid because many of them don't have it. Are there any particular cases or people that you're working with right now that are just really compelling and are kind of making you rethink your role on the,

Speaker 8: (20:59)

Uh, yeah, I mean, we started few return about a year ago and basically we, we wanted to help the migrants here in Tijuana, but since we started, we've been getting requests from people from all over the world. We are refugees, uh, people in Istanbul. And recently we got a phone call from a representative 120 Afghanistan, Fulbright scholars. These are individuals that came here over the summer, this summer to study here in the United States center, the Fulbright scholarship program, under the understanding they would do their master's degrees. They would get their PhDs here. And eventually they would return to Afghanistan to make that country a better place. It's part of the requirement for the program. But when the us withdrew from Afghanistan, when the Taliban took over returning to Afghanistan, it was no longer an option. So my volunteers and I, we got together and we decided to help these 120 Afghan Fulbright scholars right now we're representing 68 of them. It's the biggest undertaking that my non-profit has ever under ever had it. Wouldn't, we're humbled by the faith that these scholars are having in us to help them find representation

Speaker 1: (21:59)

Back to living in between two different countries and cultures, and really creating a culture of one's own. What do you think people who don't have that experience should know about this slice of the community that lives in the in-between? And I've got to say Beto, you've got this really unique stance. Not only are you across border from that ether that lives in the Quanta and San Diego, but you're also helping people who are also very much in the in-between.

Speaker 8: (22:26)

We're pretty much like anyone else that wants to live in and have a nice place to live, live securely. We have a few differences in that some of us have to wait hours and hours to cross the border to get the work. But other than that, um, we listened to the same podcasts. We watched the same Netflix TV shows, and we're generally just trying to do better for ourselves, for our families and the people around us.

Speaker 1: (22:50)

Thank you so much better. I think you're really weaving something together. It's the common message that I keep hearing from you is we really share a lot of similarities, whether it's front, that ethos who are crossing back and forth between China and the San Diego, or even just some of the asylum seekers that you're working with, but are kind of just facing this in between. I've been talking to Beto Chavez. Thank you so much for connecting with us today.

Speaker 8: (23:13)

Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: (23:18)

And I just want to take a quick moment to recognize the work happening in our own KDDS newsroom to cover these important stories this week, Alexandra on hell God perspective from a local Haitian pastor, following the news out of Texas, she also updated us on the situation for businesses at the border. Now waiting through another month long extension of COVID travel restrictions, you can find those stories on our website and at the KPBS YouTube page. I know it's easy to get wrapped up and overwhelmed in these tough news cycles and topics. I want to remind you a well balanced media diet includes seeking out some fun and joy. And I know we found it this week in the KPBS cinema junkie podcast.

Speaker 9: (24:01)

And were there any other kinds of heroes that popped up along the way, even if they might've been supporting characters in a film where, you know, the lead was white, but did you see some moments where yeah, they're making a little bit of progress.

Speaker 10: (24:16)

Is it too early to talk about Bruce Lee? I mean, for me, Bruce Lee is, is that right? Um, I mean, like he's not a supporting character either. He's the star. He is, you can't take your eyes off him.

Speaker 11: (24:31)

Introducing the incredible heroics of Bruce Lee, every limb of his body is our lethal weapon against an army of men. The most central of women, the most

Speaker 10: (24:45)

Bruce Lee comes with an asterisk in that his films are not set in the United States. They're actually set all over the world, right? You have like Thailand and Italy, but like he becomes a hero to Asian Americans and like a press people everywhere because his films are often about fighting against power. And so even though he doesn't satisfy as an Asian American character on the screen in the way that like the characters and flower drum song do, and then later, later films might, but suddenly you had quite clearly the hero on this.

Speaker 1: (25:15)

It's an exploration of Asians in film with Brian, who from the San Diego Asian film festival, by the way, a little more good news song. She and the legend of the 10 rings is on track to become the highest earning movie this year closing in on $200 million, not bad for the first Marvel superhero movie centered around an Asian character. Thank you for tuning into this week's edition of the KPBS round table. And thank you to my guests, Nicole Phillips from the Haitian bridge Alliance, Kate Morsi from the San Diego union Tribune. And Bedro Chavez from fear of return. If you missed any part of our show, you can listen anytime on the KPBS round table podcast, I'm Christina Kim, join us next week on the round.

KPBS race and equity reporter Cristina Kim hosts our discussion on the situation involving Haitian asylum seekers in Texas and what it says about United States policy and actions toward vulnerable groups fleeing their home countries.