As migration challenges continue, Haitians in Tijuana find support at community forum
Hundreds of Haitians in Tijuana received hot meals of chicken, rice and beans as well as legal guidance on Wednesday at a Christmas-themed community town hall.
The forum, hosted by the Haitian Bridge Alliance – a San Diego-based nonprofit advocacy and aid organization that focuses on supporting black migrants, especially Haitians – provided an opportunity for advocates answer questions and assess the needs of newcomers. Haitian migrants continue to arrive in the border town in hopes of reaching the United States, a migration trend that has been going on for years and became public in 2021.
Guerline Jozef, the organization’s executive director, said sharing a dinner with Haitian asylum seekers in Tijuana was a necessary part of her Christmas celebration.
âAs a culture and as a people, we have forgotten who Christ is,â Jozef said. âAs we stand here in Tijuana watching migrants seek protection, I can’t help but come back to the basic reality that Noel recognizes Christ as a refugee. “
Border policies have long restricted asylum seekers’ access to American soil, and under the pandemic, those restrictions have become even more restrictive. This has left thousands stranded in border towns in northern Mexico, filling shelters and forcing many to live on the streets. A similar situation is playing out on Mexico’s southern border, where, due to American pressure, Mexico has held asylum seekers, including tens of thousands of Haitians, in Tapachula.
Most Haitians left their country years ago due to a combination of natural disasters, gang violence, political corruption and poverty. Those who are on the move now come largely from Chile or Brazil, where they had tried to rebuild their lives. Many told the Union-Tribune of the racist attacks and discrimination they faced, especially in Chile, which contributed to their decision to leave.
But in 2021, conditions in their home country only appeared to worsen as more natural disasters rocked the nation. The President of Haiti has been assassinated and American missionaries have been kidnapped there.
Rather than returning home to Haiti, many in Brazil and Chile decided to travel to the United States.
The United States extended protections to Haitians already on American soil earlier this year due to conditions in their home country. But gaining access to the United States has been difficult for those still south of the border, and many who attempted to cross ended up in Haiti.
Using a policy known as Title 42, U.S. border officials have carried out nearly 10,300 Haitian deportations since President Joe Biden took office until the end of November, according to court documents filed this morning. week in a case concerning the administration’s attempt to end the “Stay in Mexico” program. That’s more than a fifth of the arrests of Haitians by border patrol agents during this period. And the proportion does not continues to grow – in the past three months, more than a third of Haitians apprehended have been deported.
More than 500 others have been sent back to Haiti in more traditional deportations this year.
âIs there a place in the world for the Haitian people? A Haitian asylum seeker still stranded in Tapachula told the Union-Tribune in English this week. âWe can’t live in – not even in our country. So we try to survive to go elsewhere, and then they refuse us. What’s the problem?”
Haitian Bridge Alliance advocates have worked to support those stranded at the US-Mexico border, as well as in Tapachula, with donated clothing, hair care products, masks and information.
San Diegans Yvonne Griffin and Christina Griffin-Jones, a mother and daughter volunteering for the organization, said they saw their work supporting Haitians in Tijuana as an extension of the black life movement.
It’s an act of solidarity, not charity, Griffin-Jones said.
âIt’s about doing for my family, people who are a part of the same story that I am a part of,â Griffin-Jones said, âand the reasons they have to migrate are because of the actions of the country that I call home. “
âThere is enough space in America for everyone,â added her mother Griffin.
As part of its work in support of black migrants, the Haitian Bridge Alliance filed a complaint this week on behalf of Haitian asylum seekers held by the US Border Patrol under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, in September, alleging abuse and racial discrimination on the part of American officials. He says the federal government under Biden implemented a specific âHaitian deterrence policyâ to prevent Haitian migrants from entering the United States.
“Haitians have been one of the most common targets of racist and exclusionary policies in the United States,” the court document said.
The plaintiffs include a man who was pictured in a high-profile photo that shows him being chased by border patrol officers on horseback.
The man, identified in the trial as Mirard Joseph, said meeting the border patrol officer “was the most humiliating experience of my life”.
“The second most humiliating moment was when they handcuffed and shackled me to return to Haiti,” he added in the court document.
Asked about the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said it was a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
“As Secretary (Alejandro) Mayorkas said, DHS does not tolerate mistreatment or abuse of migrants in our custody,” the spokesperson added. âDHS remains committed to a thorough, independent and objective investigation. “
The DHS Inspector General’s office announced in November that it had refused to investigate the incident and was referring the matter to the Professional Accountability Office of Customs and Border Protection.
At Wednesday’s event in Tijuana, Haitian Bridge Alliance lawyer Nicole Phillips warned the crowd about the injustices of the U.S. immigration system.
Phillips highlighted the likelihood that people attempting to cross will be deported to Haiti and warned of the difficulties they would face in proving their asylum claims if they were actually allowed to access this process.
While most of what she shared with the crowds in a small park near the border wasn’t really good news, several people expressed to the Union-Tribune their gratitude for having access to anything. information.
A couple who had been in Tijuana for four months said town hall was the first time they had heard US border policies and processes explained in Haitian Creole.
âI feel a little better because I know something,â said a woman in the Spanish she had learned while in Chile.
The Haitian community forum was paired with a Christmas event hosted by the city of Tijuana and various local organizations providing tacos, clothes, shoes and blankets to migrants and anyone living on the streets. This event featured Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus as well as The Grinch in costume.
As city workers handed out gifts in the backs of trucks on one side of the park, most Haitian adults huddled around Phillips, listening intently, some even recording the entire conversation on their phones.
âEveryone here is afraid to go back to Haiti, aren’t they? Phillips asked the crowd.
“Yes!” the crowd responded.
It is not enough, she told them, to be able to stay in the United States. Phillips, who learned Haitian Creole during the years she worked in the Caribbean nation as a human rights lawyer, gave culturally specific examples of the types of cases eligible for asylum, such as opposition politicians targeted by the government or individuals threatened by criminal organizations. linked to political groups.
A woman in the crowd learned she might stand a chance. After hiding her sexual orientation for years, she had publicly identified as a lesbian and worked with organizations to advocate for the rights of Haiti’s LGBTQ + community. Most of her family abandoned her, and the father of her child took his daughter away. She was targeted, she said, and a fellow organizer was killed. She fled the country earlier this year.
But before she can worry about how to start the asylum process, she has a more pressing need. She has been sleeping rough for two weeks since arriving in Tijuana.
Her father, the only person in her immediate family who supported her, had died in the DariÃ©n Gap – a notorious jungle that migrants must pass through to reach Panama from Colombia – as the two headed north from where he lived in Brazil. She has an uncle in the United States who she believes would accept her if she could enter the country.
âI feel lonely,â she said through a friend who translated from Creole to Spanish. Her voice broke as she spoke.
But once she gathered at the table with Haitian Bridge Alliance volunteers to learn more about her options, her smile beamed across the park.