Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Roundtable: What Happens In Haiti Matters At The Border

 July 9, 2021 at 9:00 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:01 It's part of the story of those seeking asylum at San Diego's front door. Why the news this week in Haiti is critical to understanding the bigger picture San Diego is trying again to provide shelter to houseless individuals downtown, we'll get a status check and equality at the blood bank. New research that might finally remove a barrier for gay men in day-to-day life. I'm Claire tracer and the KPBS round table starts now. Speaker 2: 00:38 [inaudible] Speaker 1: 00:39 Hello. Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Claire, Tresor joining me on this remote edition of the KPBS round table. Our San Diego union Tribune, immigration reporter, Kate Morrissey, KPBS news, health reporter, Matt Hoffman, and Emily Alpert res reporter for the LA times. One of the biggest stories of the week is thousands of miles away, but one that carries significance here in San Diego's border region. In the middle of the night, Haiti's president Jovan Elmo, Luis was assassinated in his own home. His wife, the country's first lady survived and is being treated here in the us. We all Speaker 3: 01:19 Know that, uh, president Moise was really committed to, uh, some, uh, I will say some, uh, actions against the oligarchs and Haiti. So we, uh, know that in the last days he, uh, spoke about the consequences that those actions can have on his own life. Speaker 1: 01:42 That's Claude Yossef. Now Haiti's acting prime minister on what might be behind the shooting, but our focus today is on this latest shock to a country with a long history of instability and how that leaves its citizens with no choice, but to seek asylum elsewhere. Our guest is Kate Morrissey who has covered the asylum system extensively for the San Diego union Tribune. Hello, Kate. Hi, thanks for having me. Let's start with the situation now in Tiawana. Do we have an estimate for how many Haitians are still waiting to seek asylum in the U S I think it's a little bit difficult to know for sure. I saw, um, some advocacy groups last year saying there were about 4,000, but I think we've seen a lot of movement since then, both of people, um, trying to come into the U S from Tijuana as well as more Haitians arriving to the Tijuana San Diego region. Speaker 1: 02:43 So, um, I don't know that that number is super exact, but that's the best I've got at this point. Okay. So much of the coverage around immigration and asylum involves central Americans, which you've also reported on at length, but does the story of Haitians get, I think there are a lot of immigration stories that get overlooked and certainly migration from Haiti has been been one of those. Um, there've been moments where, where it ends up in the spotlight, but it doesn't have the same sort of continued focus that migration from other places has, even though it is a pretty constant thing that is happening interviewed many asylum seekers from Haiti. Is there a common experience or reason for leaving that stands out to you? I think one of the things that stands out to me about folks from Haiti is that there are so many different reasons and reasons that sort of intersect with each other or compound each other. Speaker 1: 03:43 So whether you're looking at folks who chose to make the journey, you know, back right after the earthquake happened, that, you know, destroyed so much of the country or whether you're looking at folks who fled political violence, because there, there has been a lot of political repression and targeting of political opponents or people who think differently from those in power. And then there's folks who are fleeing sort of the rise in violence among gangs and other groups who are sort of tied to some of these different power structures. And that's been sort of a little bit more recent. So there's, there's all these layers going on. So Haitians were among those caught up in president Trump's immigration policies at the Southern border. Are we starting to see any movement or progress when it comes to Haitian asylum seekers under president Biden? I think the thing too to note is that Haitians were not part of the official sort of remain in Mexico policy or the migrant protection protocols that was for people who were from Latin America. Speaker 1: 04:51 And so what happened to Haitians were where some of the other Trump policies that, that kept people from getting access to us soil. So things like metering where the ports of entry would only take so many asylum seekers per day, and everyone else was stuck waiting in these incredibly long lines that stretch for months and months and months. And, uh, so you wanna in particular had a lot of Haitians in the line waiting to come into the port of entry and when the pandemic started and the Trump administration put this policy into place that immediately expels people who cross into the United States and completely shut down asylum processing at ports of entry, the Haitians who were were on that list, who were waiting in that line were just stuck. And there's not been a way or a process yet to get them unstuck. The Biden administration has continued that pandemic policy it's called title 42. Speaker 1: 05:45 Um, people have been expelled either to Mexico or to Haiti. Um, sort of officially Haitians are not supposed to be expelled to Mexico, but we've talked to people who have had that experience. So it's a little, you know, exactly what's happening to Haitians right now is sort of a roll of the dice. They might, uh, if they choose to cross, you know, between ports of entry going over the fence or, or otherwise sort of, of sneaking in, they might end up, uh, released into the United States. They might end up back in Haiti very quickly, or they might end up back in Mexico very quickly. And that has not really changed. There is a process for, um, people who are in sort of extreme dire circumstances while they're stuck in Mexico, while this program is in place to get an exemption and be allowed into the United States. Speaker 1: 06:32 And we've seen a few Haitians be able to take advantage of that program, but certainly not many. And you mentioned the us is still deporting Haitians. Is there a key factor in determining who is allowed to stay and who is sent back? Well, as far as I've understood from the advocates who are in communication with the people who end up on these flights, whether they're being sort of officially deported or whether they're being expelled, which, uh, in terms of the person's experience is basically the same thing. But in terms of like the legal sort of nuances of it are, are kind of two different things. There've been, you know, all kinds of people on, on those, uh, deportation flights back to Haiti without, you know, uh, whether it's women and children or men or, or, or any combination in there. So it, it seems like as far as we've seen over this first part of the Biden administration, it's been very random. Speaker 1: 07:33 And, and that's a theme that I think has carried across not just the story of patients, but the story of, of many of the immigrants who are coming to the border right now, then for those who are granted asylum, or at least are allowed to enter the U S what's life like for them, as they try to adjust to a new country, do many of them end up staying in San Diego? There's a growing number who are staying in San Diego. Um, back in 2016, most Haitians would go to either Miami or New York. Um, that's where two of the main hubs are in. And people often go to places where people from their countries are already established. It's a lot easier to get your life going. When there's people who speak your language and understand your culture around you, who can help you sort of acclimate and adjust to the new culture that you're in and the new sort of rules and system that you're in. Speaker 1: 08:27 Um, but because so many Haitians were arriving here in 2016 and some didn't have any way to get all the way across the country. So we started to see more and more Haitians staying here. And now that there's a little bit more of an established community, I anticipate that we'll continue to see that into the future with, with patients choosing to stay here locally, the Haitians, you talk with express a desire to return to their home country. Not really, um, most of the Haitians who I've spoken with have pretty much given up on Haiti. You know, there might be some desire to one day, go back and visit and just sort of see it and say hi, but no one who I've spoken to over, you know, the years that I've been covering migration from Haiti, no one has said, oh yeah, I think I'll be able to go back in a few years. Speaker 1: 09:18 Like, it's always, you know, I don't see a life for myself or my family or my children there. And I don't think that that's going to change. And that's why I'm here. Like, that's very much the way of thinking that I've heard over and over again. All right. Well, I've been speaking with Kate Marcy who covers immigration for the San Diego union Tribune. And thank you Kate so much for covering this important story. Thanks for having me. It's something we've heard from so many public leaders over the years, something finally needs to be done to end homelessness in San Diego. What is Speaker 3: 09:52 Happening in downtown is wholly unacceptable for the residents and for the businesses of this community. But most, especially for the people who are living unsheltered encampments along our sidewalks, Speaker 1: 10:04 That was San Diego mayor, Todd Gloria just a few weeks ago, announcing a hundred million dollar partnership with the city and county. That money is being spent to get people into shelters starting in the downtown area. So how's it going? And how is this effort any different from work done in the past and more importantly, will it work KPBS health reporter, Matt Hoffman checked in with those doing the one-on-one outreach required for this delicate and personal work. Hello Matt. Hey Claire. So let's start with your initial impression this week. Did you see any noticeable improvement of the situation downtown? It's definitely Speaker 4: 10:43 Hard to tell. And we sort of asked that to the housing commission who is coordinating this outreach, you know, among nonprofits, uh, city workers, um, and also, you know, county health nurses. Um, and they said over the first week, so this is a month long coordinated outreach. They sit in that first week, they saw just under 140 people get admitted to shelters. Now shelters are just one piece of this kind of the first piece of getting people, some sort of housing. Um, and they say majority of that came from this downtown port. Speaker 1: 11:09 Okay. And then you talked with a representative from path, one of the many groups involved in this outreach work. And what did they have to say about this latest effort? Speaker 4: 11:20 No, they said that there's a lot of people that are taking advantage of resources. And when we say resources, you know, they're focusing on a couple of different areas of downtown, you know, the east village, the Gaslamp district and the city center. And within that, they sort of have like the central hub that has a number of services, like things like Medicaid county, behavioral health services, um, also tents there to try to get people into shelter. And they sort of move that around and they said it's been very successful, right? Because some people, um, you know, it can take a number of touches to try to get somebody to accept even just like shelter in terms of getting them in a shelter tonight. You know, they say that that's fairly easy, but there's other small wins where maybe it's, you know, somebody doesn't know that they have access to Medicaid or Medicare and they can get some income or maybe they need a driver's license to be able to apply for some of this housing. And they can give them a voucher, maybe even take them to the DMV. So, uh, some of those little wins are happening and also they are saying that they are getting more people into shelter. Um, but it's nice cause we have, you know, coordinated outreach efforts in the past, but usually it's like one or two of these big events a year where they have all these providers in one location. Um, so having these sort of mini mobile command centers, um, they say it has been working. Speaker 1: 12:24 And part of your story includes a man who says he chose to be homeless. Here's a couple of comments from Montel Blake about his situation. I Speaker 5: 12:34 Know no complaints, no complaints because I chose to be homeless. And even though it's hard to get a bottle of wine, that whole situation, somebody responsibility, but mine, I got a couple of issues about being around groups about being around a bit too close to people that I don't want to accept help is that, um, why getting away when somebody can use it better Speaker 1: 12:54 Than me. Right. So he's saying there that he has issues being in a shelter where he's close, close to people. And so how does an experience like his illustrate, just how complex of an issue this is? It's not simply about people, desperate for shelter, right? Speaker 4: 13:10 Exactly. Just to give you some background there before we talked to Montel, um, we were just happening to be going downtown, um, to try to speak with some people with path who were involved in this effort. And we just happened to roll up on an encampment cleanup along national avenue. And you know, some people think that they can't make cleanups aren't happening. They are still happening. That's where they go up and they put up those three-hour signs. Um, and they say, Hey, you have three hours to basically get your stuff and move it out of here because then they roll in with a dump truck. Um, and they roll in with like street sweeping crews and they move everything out of there. So this gentleman, Montel, he was moving a lot of stuff. I mean, basically like his, his, his whole life, his whole home. Speaker 4: 13:45 Um, and he was moving it to another block, but you know, we asked him straight up, you know, if they said to you today, Hey, we have a shelter bed for you. Would you want to go into it? And he said, no. And that's something that housing officials, homelessness officials are very aware of that a lot of people, you know, may not be trusting right away. They may not want to live in that group setting. You know, we talked to another gentleman, uh, out there the other day during this cleanup, he was having to move a lot of stuff, literally grabbing stuff out of the dump truck right before they, they, they crushed it. Um, he was saying that he thinks that the shelters are, are too restrictive in terms of, um, having some of these curfews where you have to be in by some of the people who are living out there, they just, you know, want a lot of freedom. Speaker 4: 14:19 Now, there are some other barriers in place to, you know, um, in terms of, you know, using alcohol, use some people using drugs, you can't do that inside of a shelter. Um, and part of this push, no, this is the first month of, of just trying to reach out to people. But then the second part of this, like the phase two, where the county comes into play is the city's looking to identify a shelter that can help people with severe substance abuse disorders. And then the county health nurses, behavioral health nurses will be staffing that. And they also want to the housing commission who's coordinating. This says that they want to hear from people about maybe what some of the barriers are to going to a shelter and see if they can, you know, sort of change some of that, maybe in this new shelter, that's a city county. Speaker 1: 14:55 Is there any enforcement being considered for people who want to continue living outdoors? Speaker 4: 15:02 Um, and when we're seeing, when we, and I guess when we say enforcement, we're talking about these encampment cleanups. Um, but it's sort of interesting, cause it's sort of like a shuffle of moving things around the one gentleman we talked to said, things like this one, when we have to move our stuff, maybe we've been here for a month. We know we have like a little tenant cam it's set up there they're very hard days, but he also said that it's part of the game. It's part of being homeless in San Diego. You sorta get used to it. Um, and, and just anecdotally, you know, those are very tough days. A lot of emotions flying around and there was a one woman who, you know, clearly disabled. She had a lot of stuff, but, but there's definitely a community down there. And basically what a lot of these people are doing is they're grabbing their stuff and they're moving it to another block because that block, you know, maybe isn't getting hit today. It's not being an a can't make cleanup. So they're able to move some of their stuff. And then the city crews come in there and they, and they sort of clean up Speaker 1: 15:46 And mayor Todd, Gloria said, this hyper focused effort will last a few weeks. How will they measure if it's been successful? I Speaker 4: 15:55 Think th th there's a couple different measurements there and assets of the housing commission, you know, that sort of big overarching goals is they want to see people get into shelter, but not necessarily getting the shelter. You know, some people they may have signed up for a voucher, uh, but maybe they don't have access to email and they don't know that, you know, Hey, you signed up for this six months ago. We actually, we have an apartment ready for you to go into. Um, that would be like an exit to housing. Potentially. Another winds could be, you know, people that maybe need to go into like a nursing home or some sort of, you know, more longer term or higher acuity care. But then also like what I touched on earlier, there's some smaller wins, combating homeless. Isn't something that happens overnight. Especially when we talk about people who are, are, are chronic homeless people who are living on the streets, they don't want to go into a shelter. Speaker 4: 16:32 So that's some making some of those small touches, some of those small connections where even if it's just giving them a cup of coffee, giving them some food, uh, to start building that trust. But then some of the other small things like maybe getting them signed up for Medicare, getting them, helping them get a new driver's license so that they can try to sign up for some of these programs, even getting them vaccinated. Part of these small command centers, there's county health nurses, they're delivering COVID-19 vaccination. So, you know, you could say from a public health perspective, you know, it's a win if we get more of our most vulnerable vaccinated. So, uh, there's a couple of different measurements there, but you know, they want to get people into shelter, into some sort of housing. That's the overarching goal Speaker 1: 17:05 And downtown, isn't the only part of San Diego where help is needed. Is there a plan to take this approach elsewhere? And if so, what locations might be next? Speaker 4: 17:15 Right, right, right now, you know, this big push, you know, we're a little over a weekend into this month, long push is centered around downtown, and you might be asking yourself why that is well, that's where a large concentration of people who are homeless are. And we, you know, we have these outreach workers going out there on a regular basis. They sort of have it broken up into districts, but they're, you know, doubling down, tripling down, quadrupling down on their efforts to try to reach these people. You know, I'm unsure if it's going to be moved somewhere next, but just talking to some of the outreach workers that are doing this, you know, they really like the idea of, you know, sort of traveling around with this mobile command center where, you know, instead of having to, you know, call over a health nurse to come meet them out somewhere, which you know, can take some time, uh, they can just bring them to this one central location, get them a meal, maybe get them signed up for some services. So I think that people would like to see it happen elsewhere, but keep in mind too, you know, these programs cost money. You know, they need buy-in from local communities, local jurisdiction. So, you know, it's happening in the city of San Diego happening downtown. Uh, but it remains to be seen if it can be duplicated somewhere else. Speaker 1: 18:12 All right. Well, I've been speaking with Matt Hoffman, a health reporter for KPBS, and thank you, Matt, for continuing to cover this story. Thanks Claire. This weekend, San Diego will host some of the first pride events leading up to next week's parade in Hillcrest. The celebration of our LGBTQ community is also a time to reflect on the struggle for inclusion and for rights that have been secured through generations of hard work and struggle. Despite the progress, some relics of exclusion remain, especially one that is affected gay men for decades, LA times, reporter Emily Alpert res has a story this week on a new push to ease restrictions on blood donors, which has been a pain point, going back to the 1970s. Hello, Emily, and welcome. Thanks so much for having me. So your story profiles, the experience of Andrew Goldstein, why did he want to take part in this study? Speaker 6: 19:09 So Andrew is someone who used to give blood very routinely to the point where I think he had like a special pin from the blood bank for having given so much, he's a type O negative donor. So he's a universal donor, but he's also, um, a gay man. Who's in a monogamous relationship. He's married. And as a result, he is, uh, excluded from donating now. Um, so he hasn't been able to donate for, you know, most of his adult life. And he recently enrolled in this new study to help provide information that could potentially lead to changing those restrictions. Speaker 1: 19:41 And so as you report, the FDA regulates blood banks and the rules for donations, and they have eased restrictions a bit in recent years, but tell us what barriers still exist. So Speaker 6: 19:53 As it stands, um, if you were a man who has had sex with another man in the past three months, you cannot donate. So basically, you know, if you were in a committed relationship and having any kind of sex life in it, um, you're still not able to donate. This is, uh, somewhat looser than the restrictions in the past. Initially this was a lifetime ban. If you were a man who had ever had sex with, uh, another man, um, you would not be able to donate blood. Um, that was loosened a couple years back to a one-year deferral. Um, so if you had not had sex with another man in a year, you would be eligible again that still excludes, you know, most people who are at all sexually active, um, who are gay, bisexual Speaker 1: 20:32 Men, right? Even those in a monogamous relationship, as you say, but then there are people who argue against easing restrictions. So what sort of public comment did the FDA receive on this issue? Right. Speaker 6: 20:45 Um, so when the, uh, FDA was looking at loosening the lifetime ban, there were a string of letters that they got, um, from people who basically argue that, oh, this is a, a political correctness move, um, that this is still too risky, gay and bisexual men are still at much higher risk of contracting HIV than the rest of the population. Um, they kind of still bear the brunt of the aids epidemic and, um, some argue, look, it's just not, it doesn't make any sense to change those rules while you have a group that is still at elevated risk Speaker 1: 21:17 And Goldstein reflected a bit on the growing social acceptance of the LGBTQ movement and this blue blood donation issue saying, it seems totally out of step with where we are. So how to he and other advocates hope science can be another path to make societal gains. Speaker 6: 21:37 Well, what folks who want to change the rules have argued is that, you know, in general, these kinds of restrictions are very blunt instruments. Uh, even people who run blood banks, you know, talk about these as being very blunt instruments that they're meant to sort of screen out people in very broad ways. Um, and they're not necessarily very fine tuned what this new study is aiming to do and what some other countries already do is screen out people instead based on particular behaviors, um, such as, you know, having sex without a condom, having sex for a lot of new partners. Um, and they're hoping that that could be a more refined way of, you know, really looking at who's actually at elevated risk for HIV and who is not, um, are there people who are being screened out now who could be perfectly fine? Speaker 1: 22:20 And so you referenced this a little bit, but tell us more about the technology and how it's evolving to determine that donated blood is safe and not tainted with HIV or anything else. Yeah. Speaker 6: 22:32 One of the reasons why these restrictions were put in place early on was that blood testing, you know, couldn't effectively detect the virus until months after exposure. So that meant that if you had someone who had gotten infected with HIV and then went to give blood, that it might not be picked up by the testing over time, those tests have grown more and more sensitive so that you know, that period of time between when someone's affected and when it's detectable in their blood is a lot shorter. It's now, uh, you know, around a week, maybe a little more, uh, depending, and that has made, um, a lot of groups that were concerned about, you know, losing some of these restrictions, a good deal, um, more comfortable with it. Um, because as that window has gotten narrower and narrower, Speaker 1: 23:17 Are there ways to screen potential blood donors in ways that don't explicitly ask about sexual orientation? Yeah. Some other Speaker 6: 23:25 Countries that do this, these are sometimes called gender neutral or, um, individual risk assessment models where they're asking people not about, um, you know, what we're asking the U S is, are you a man who's had sex with another man in the past three months, the alternatives are things like, you know, asking about particular sexual behavior, again, having sex without a condom, having sex with a number of new partners in a short period of time and using those as an alternative way to gauge the particular risk of this person, as opposed to, you know, someone just being at risk because they're a man Speaker 1: 23:57 And now blood shortages have been an issue. The pandemic and are reopening is part of the reason. Is there any sense on how easing restrictions on gay men might help in a practical sense of helping blood banks maintain supply? Um, I know Speaker 6: 24:13 That when the, the lifetime ban, um, was loosened that there was some research on the exact number of donors, I'm not sure that that's happened with adjusting from a three-month deferral to, um, uh, to, uh, a risk assessment model. But I think that certainly the need for blood has made it all the more urgent for blood banks to look at. What's the best possible way for us to be assessing who can donate and are there ways that we could be screening people that would again, allow more people who are safe and, and not risky donors to go ahead and get it. Speaker 1: 24:46 And you report that the red cross and others are part of this study. So how can people learn more or even participate if they're interested? Speaker 6: 24:55 The website for the study is advanced, and it provides a lot of information. If people are interested in enrolling, they're enrolling people in the LA area and several other, uh, major cities, uh, they're aiming to get, I think it's 2000 people across the country who will be, um, providing blood and having that blood screened, um, and also answering a bunch of questions about their sex life to determine if there's a better way to screen people for risk Speaker 1: 25:20 All in the name of science. Right. Um, well, I've been speaking with Emily Alpert res who's a public health reporter for the LA times. And thank you Emily so much. Thank you. That wraps up this week's edition of the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Kate Marcy, from the San Diego union Tribune, Matt Hoffman from KPBS news and Emily Alpert, rays from the LA times, if you missed any part of our show, you can listen anytime on the KPBS round table podcast. I'm Claire, sir. Speaker 2: 25:52 Thanks for listening. [inaudible].

Political turmoil in Haiti adds to the asylum situation at San Diego's border with Mexico, an update on the city of San Diego's latest effort to provide shelter for people experiencing homelessness downtown and a new study that might help ease restrictions on blood donations from gay men.