When the the Olympic games started in Rio de Janeiro, Haitian construction workers in the city knew their time was up. They had boarded airplanes to Brazil for low-wage jobs starting in 2010, but when the economy started to drag its feet after the mega-stadiums were up, they were back on the road. They would to trek across the Americas, through thousands of miles of deadly jungle, in order to make it to the United States.
But many of them came too late, and now there’s no way for them to cross. About 2,700 of them got stranded in the Mexican cities of Tijuana and Mexicali in the early months of 2017, under the threat that if they cross the border, the authorities will deport them. People have seen their cousins, their husbands, their children be sent back to on planes – and they are unwilling to take the same risk, nor are they willing to stay in Mexico, but they currently have no other option.
Haitians started to settle in America since the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fell from power in 1986, so some of the immigrants thought they would end up in their families’ homes. Others were looking for relatives who had come to the U.S. after an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, causing the population in the U.S. to skyrocket to 676,000. Until the U.S. government suddenly became startled by the number of Haitians lining up at its border last year, it had given the new arrivals at least a tepid welcome, allowing them to leave detention centers with the promise they would not be deported for up to three years. But in September 2016, the Obama administration started fast-tracking Haitians’ deportations, a warning to the rest of the people who were waiting for interviews with immigration officials.
The Haitians we met in the border cities were confronting the fact that there is nowhere else to go. They were one of the first significant black migrant populations along this stretch of northern border, which made them a subject of gossip when they first arrived, and their broken Spanish did not make integration any easier. Some remained in the churches and shelters that first took them in, others had built plywood homes in the city’s peripheral neighborhoods, and others crammed into small apartments. But, in general, they’re not making enough to go elsewhere.
Mexican authorities fear that President Donald Trump’s plan to tighten migration across the Mexican border could spur immigration crises in towns and cities all along the border and, indeed, throughout Mexico. Tijuana already has a large migrant population, including deportees from the U.S. as well as Central American citizens, so the thousands of Haitians, most of whom have been granted temporary papers, are a sign of what could happen if America continues to close its gates.
Text by Maya Averbuch