How Haitian Migrants Are Getting To The U.S., And Where They May Go Next

Sep 23, 2021
Originally published on September 23, 2021 1:14 pm

Updated September 23, 2021 at 12:10 PM ET

We've been following the story of thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, camping out under a bridge in a Texas border town. That crowd is looking a little smaller Thursday.

U.S. border agents are allowing some into the country, with instructions to appear before an immigration office within 60 days. Others are being sent back to Haiti, or they're heading back over the border to Mexico — where NPR's Carrie Kahn brings us these updates. Listen to the full conversation here.

The numbers: Kahn said there appear to be between 5,000 and 6,000 migrants in the makeshift camp, but media are not allowed in to confirm. Hundreds of migrants have been released into the U.S. and are being bused to other Texas cities, with many heading to stay with relatives. The Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition said it's helped more than 1,000 people board buses north in the last three days.

Who gets to stay? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security isn't explaining how it is making that determination, but Kahn said it seems like families with children are the ones being allowed into the United States.

What is Mexico doing? Mexican immigration officials have started removing people from their side of the border in Ciudad Acuña, conducting pre-dawn raids of hotels and parks. Authorities are sending migrants out of town to southern Mexico and as far away as Guatemala.

Why now? As NPR's Steve Inskeep points out, Haiti is in a tough spot dealing with the aftermath of a presidential assassination and natural disaster — but many of the migrants now at the border were not in Haiti for those events, making it all the more surprising that so many people abruptly showed up in the same area.

Kahn calls it "really quite a stunning logistical feat that all these migrants, mostly Haitians, suddenly traveled 1,500 miles from southern Mexico ... in dozens of buses and arrived here within days of each other." She notes that many are using social media to learn how to make their way there.

What are Haitians saying? Kahn spoke to 29-year-old Jean Baptiste as he boarded a bus headed for Houston (where his uncle lives) with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. He left Haiti in 2017, and while his goal was to come to the U.S., he spent the last four years in Chile "barely eking out a living." He said that he heard about Del Rio, Texas, and decided to come — and that he's telling his friends now it's worth a try.

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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The U.S. special envoy to Haiti has resigned in protest. His name is Daniel Foote, and he quit his job, protesting what he called an inhumane deportation policy of Haitians. This refers to Haitians seeking asylum who have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. You may recall that thousands have been staying under a bridge at Del Rio, Texas. U.S. border agents have, in fact, deported some back to Haiti; others have crossed back to Mexico in frustration. And there is today also news that U.S. border agents are releasing some into the United States to await court dates. NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us now from Piedras Negras, across the Texas border in Mexico. Hey there, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do things look like in the last 24 hours?

KAHN: It appears there are about 5- or 6,000 people still under the bridge or in improvised tents there. The media is not being allowed into the camp, so it's hard to say exactly. Hundreds of migrants, like you said, have been released into the U.S., and they're being bussed to other Texas cities, where they can go where they want. Many are heading to relatives. And I spent some time at the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition in Del Rio, which is run by Tiffany Burrows. She says in the past three days, they've helped more than a thousand people board buses north. Yesterday, they hit a record.

TIFFANY BURROW: This is definitely a banner day. We haven't assisted 400 people in the history of our existence.

INSKEEP: So who gets to stay in the U.S. and who doesn't?

KAHN: We don't know exactly how that determination's being made. The Department of Homeland Security isn't answering that question, but it appears that families with children are the ones being allowed into the country. I met a very relieved 29-year-old man, Jean Baptiste, on the U.S. side in Del Rio. He was boarding a bus heading for Houston with his wife and 3-year-old daughter.

JEAN BAPTISTE: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: We were talking in Spanish, and he says he was very stressed out. He was worried that he was going to be deported back to Haiti, which he left in 2017. He says he's heading to an uncle in the U.S.

INSKEEP: Carrie Kahn, I'm still trying to get my brain around how all this happened. These are Haitians for the most part, and we know that Haiti has had a terrible time with a presidential assassination and storm damage, but these Haitians weren't in Haiti at the time. They were somewhere in Latin America. Is it better understood how so many of them, maybe up to 14,000, abruptly appeared on the Texas border at a specific spot?

KAHN: Yeah, I'm trying to get my head around that, too, Steve. I don't have a complete answer to that. Most of these migrants from Haiti left years before these latest events. This is a rural area, and people have been coming for months here to cross, but just not in these numbers. And it is really quite a stunning logistical feat that all these migrants, mostly Haitians, suddenly traveled 1,500 miles from southern Mexico, where most were staged, in dozens of buses and arrived here within days of each other. I can say many communicate through social media, and they do follow each other - and they did - and they do follow each other, how to get to this crossing.

INSKEEP: What are Haitians telling you about why they came now?

KAHN: Well, I asked Jean Baptiste, the man heading to Houston, that exact question. He said he was in Chile for the past four years and was barely eking out a living. And his goal since leaving Haiti was to get to the U.S., so he heard about Del Rio, and he decided to come. So I asked him, what is he telling his friends making their way north to the U.S. now? Here's what he said.

BAPTISTE: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He said he's telling them to try. Come, and give it a shot.

INSKEEP: What is the Mexican government doing about all of this, as some of these people continue crossing and others cross back?

KAHN: Mexican immigration officials have begun removing people from the Mexican side of the border. In Ciudad Acuna, across from Del Rio, there were some pre-dawn raids on hotels and parks. And they're sending them - flying them back to southern Mexico, even expelling them to Guatemala.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

KAHN: You're welcome.

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