Desperate Haitian immigrants have been massing along the U.S.-Mexico border for months seeking humanitarian relief.
After the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti, thousands of citizens migrated to Brazil looking for work. But as Brazil has slipped into recession in recent years, many of them have hit the road again, heading north on a 6,000-mile journey to the U.S. border — by every means of conveyance.
“Taxi, bus, plane, bicycle, boat, horses, and we’ve walked for five days,” says Pierre Smith, 34, a smiling, broad-faced accountant from Port-au-Prince. He’s staying at the San Juan Bosco, an immigrant shelter on a barren hilltop in Nogales, Mexico, while he and 100 of his countrymen wait to cross into Nogales, Ariz.
These Haitians want the same generous benefits that were extended after the earthquake, when they got protection from deportation and temporary work permits. But the U.S. welcome mat is gone, and the new wave of Haitians is in for a harsh reception. The Homeland Security Department announced new rules in September. All Haitians who show up at the border without papers and who don’t ask for asylum are now detained.
Pierre Smith knows this. He and others like him won’t be granted asylum because they’re fleeing poverty, not political persecution — so once they cross, they will join nearly 4,500 other Haitians currently in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“When I get there, I don’t mind staying in detention,” he said, standing on the front steps of the shelter in a black muscle shirt. “I am looking for a better life.”
The United States allowed in 60,000 Haitian immigrants as a result of the earthquake. Now officials have heard that as many as 40,000 more have left Brazil for the United States. However, the US government has run out of detention space. This is why the Haitians are bottle-necked all along the western U.S.-Mexico border.