As US closes borders, thousands of Haitian refugees trapped in Mexico lose hope

A United States federal court has stopped the president’s executive decree that barred citizens from seven major Muslim nations from traveling to the US; however, the repercussions that the order has had on travelers are felt in the border areas of the United States.

The order suspended halts the general admission of refugees for 120 days and Syrian admittances until a later date. The directive also sets an admission limit of 50,000 each calendar year lower than 150,000. The suspension also creates significant legal hurdles for applicants who process asylum applications.

In addition to the Trump administration’s proposal to build a wall along the Mexico-US border, the border has caused a major hit not only to Muslim immigrants but also for all of the American refugees and asylum system as a whole, as well as to the more than 3000 asylum seekers and migrants who are currently trapped at Tijuana, Mexico, just two miles away of San Diego, California.

A human tragedy unfolding

While the attention of the world is focused on the current travel ban’s legal battles and the US president’s flamboyant anti-Muslim, pro-immigrant rants, refugees have been accumulating at the border crossings that connect the US and Mexico that are in legal impasse.

“No space for children or women at the La Casa del Migrante shelter, which is where a lot of Haitians have sought refuge. Edgard Garrido/Reuters

I visited refugee shelters for migrants at the beginning of February to document the human rights crisis that is advancing. I encountered the kind of people you would expect to meet: Mexican women escaping cartels and violence based on gender and gender-based violence, as well as Guatemalans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorians who fled Central America’s ever-growing violence from gangs.

There are other more unlikely suspects: Haitians who sought refuge in Brazil following the devastating 2010 earthquake in their homeland and who were forced to leave because of Brazil’s severe political and economic turmoil that has significantly reduced the availability of jobs. The Haitians aren’t typically “economic migrant”; many are physicians, engineers, and architects aged between 20 and 30 years old.

This largely unknown group comprises the majority of the migrants stranded in Tijuana. According to Tijuana activist for migrants Soraya Valzquez of The Comite estrategico de Ayuda Humanitaria Tijuana, Six Haitians were admitted to Tijuana on May 23, 2016. The following day, there were 100. Two months later, 15,000.

At the close in December 2016, more than two months following Donald Trump’s unexpected election, around 3000 Haitians had arrived in the country, mostly via Brazil, which is believed to be the network of traffickers that Vazquez states isn’t yet known.

In comparison, 10,000 Syrians have sought refugee status in the US during the same time frame.

Asylum seekers can’t legally work, do not have a permanent residence, and, if Haitian typically, don’t speak Spanish. However, they have to provide for themselves and their family members as they wait for US Immigration officials to determine if or when asylum applications are granted.

They reside in Tijuana’s open-air sewer system pits, dumps, and in the vicinity of shelters for migrants that are improvised. A lot of them seek various menial work in the underground market, including cleaning offices and homes, working in sweatshops, or even delivering pizzas for just US$1.30 every day.

Women are often given basic “jobs” in Canada, with no description and with a flight. All they need to do is surrender their passports. The websites of the alleged businesses display a permanent error message. They are, as you might expect, the typical tactics used to traffic.

An ad by Tijuana traffickers looking to lure Haitians with the message ‘If you are fluent in French there’s a solution that is ideal for you’. The writer supplied

Pockets for disposal

While I was there, the whole bleak situation along the border reminded me of the concept of what scholar Henry A. Giroux calls the ” machinery of disposability“:

What has been revealed in this conjuncture of history is a heightened awareness of this practice, in which increasing numbers of individuals and groups are being viewed as in excess and confined to areas of surveillance, abandonment, and the possibility of incarceration.

People who have to flee natural disasters and inconceivable violence in their own countries are discarded people in Mexico’s garbage and sewage systems in the middle of one of the richest nations.

These are what I’ve dubbed “disposability pockets” areas where vulnerable populations, including immigrants, are forced into miserable living conditions and inequitable markets for labour, with the tacit support from the government which ought to, theoretically and in international human rights law, act as their the stewards.


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