Video of Haitian Refugees by Meganoticias con Loredmy Argüelles

As Many As 40,000 Haitians May Be Traveling to the U.S.

October 28, 2016

Dozens of Haitians continue to wait outside the turnstiles at the DeConcini pedestrian port of entry in Nogales to see whether they will be allowed to enter the U.S., a month after Homeland Security removed immigration protections in an attempt to address the waves of Haitians arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico.

In addition to the implementation of new procedures, delays at the border station may also reflect additional potential complications caused by the devastation of Hurricane Matthew, and a lack of agreement with Haitian authorities regarding the returns of the flood of deported refugees.

So as the Haitians sit patiently alongside a wall outside of the border crossing , this humanitarian border story has begun to take on a greater perspective, raising additional questions regarding the future of U.S. immigration policy toward Haitians and the handling of potential flood of additional Haitians that may arrive at the Nogales international border.

A local delegate of the Mexican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Jesus Gabino Herrera Cabanillas, told the El Imparcial newspaper yesterday that at that point 95 Haitians have arrived in Nogales since October 19 seeking asylum, and 34 of those have been allowed to enter the Nogales border station for processing, an average of four persons per day.

The Haitians have received food and water from local human rights and social services groups in Nogales, a support system for migrants has arisen out of the need to provide basic assistance to the thousands of people who are deported from the U.S. every year and dropped off at the border, not far from where the Haitians now pass their time during the day.

And this very visible group of refugees may just be a start to what could be a massive influx of Haitians at the Arizona-Mexico border, if it ends up having similarities to the surge of Haitians at the California-Mexico border beginning in 2014.

The 2010 Haitian Exodus

The start of this outflow of Haitian refugees from their Caribbean island can be traced back to 2010, when a major earthquake devastated the island. Tens of thousands left Haiti, many of them bound for the South American country of Brazil.

That year the United States suspended deportations of Haitians, with the rationale that their lives may be endangered by sending them back into such an unstable environment. Deportations resumed on a limited basis in 2011, with a focus on dangerous criminals and those who may present a threat to national security.

When Brazil’s economy began to suffer in 2014, rising unemployment and lack of opportunities prompted thousands of Haitians to leave that nation and head north for a chance to enter the United States, mostly at immigration centers along the California-Mexico border.

The San Ysidro border crossing, south of San Diego, processed 339 Haitians in fiscal year 2015 and the next year was overwhelmed by more than 5,000 Haitians seeking entry to the U.S. in the just-ended fiscal year 2016. The overflow at California border stations may explain why Haitians are now starting to appear in Nogales and other immigration stations along the Southwest border with Mexico.

And more are coming. In her September 2016 testimony before Congress, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement Director Sarah Saldana mentioned that during a recent trip, Central American government officials had told her that more than 40,000 Haitian refugees are currently traveling northward from Brazil through Central America and Mexico.

Immigration Protections Removed

The day after Saldana’s testimony, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson lifted immigration protections for Haitians that had been granted after the 2010 earthquake, placing them in the same immigration status as those from other nations.

In his statement, Johnson mentioned that those applying for refugee status will be interviewed by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officer to make a determination of whether they can demonstrate a credible existing threat of torture or persecution. Other avenues of entry to the U.S. will also continue to exist, such as the Haitian Family Reunification Parole program.

Johnson has stated that the suspension of the post-2010 immigration protections in September was justified because the conditions had improved there. However, Hurricane Matthew struck the tiny island nation one week after his statement. And if the devastation of the 2010 earthquake warranted an easing of immigration policies for Haitians, some question whether the 2016 hurricane will have the same result.

Without knowing how these two tragedies compare with one another, in considering the current devastation of the hurricane and the billions of dollars in international aid that pours in to Haiti in the form of cash and international aid programs, it would be a real accomplishment if the government of Haiti and aid agencies could find a positive solution to this crisis and provide employment for those deported workers as they help rebuild their nation from the storm’s destruction.

A Possibly Complicated Future

In the meantime, the slow pace of interviewing and processing continues at the DeConcini Port of Entry, as immigration officials implement the new deportation policy and perhaps Homeland Security rethinks its policy approach regarding Haitian immigration policy in the wake of Matthew.

And as referenced in Secretary Johnson’s statement, a key component of the processing delays may be due to the fact that DHS and the Department of State are still in negotiations with the government of Haiti to accept the deportees.

If Haitian officials do not agree to accept the stranded Haitians, it would be yet another complication in resolving the growing Haitian refugee crisis along the southern U.S. border. And a continued, and possibly growing, presence of Haitian refugees waiting to enter the U.S. at the Nogales border.