Of the thousands of migrants living precariously on the Mexican side of the U.S. border awaiting asylum hearing dates, “metered” opportunities to present to authorities to make initial asylum claims, and in many cases simply trying to understand the contradictory and often-changing rules and practices for entry into the country, the longest journeys – years, in some cases – often belong to those from African nations or Caribbean islands, fleeing civil war in Cameroon, anti-gay government brutality in Cuba, threats and killings of family members in Haiti, and other extreme experiences all leading to the same conclusion: flee or perish.
A small family from Haiti – father, mother, baby – had saved for two years, selling possessions, begging from family, hiring out for work at every opportunity. First, passports: “We had to pay,” the young father in the family shares. A bribe to Haitian government officials was part of the process to secure passports for himself and his wife. “Then the tickets, to the place they would let us land.” With an uncle living in Florida ready to sponsor the couple, they nevertheless felt they had no chance to secure an entry visa to land in Miami, a short flight from the main airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s largest city. They did not speak English. They had almost no money.
Why leave Haiti? “We had no choice,” he says in the sketchy Spanish he’d picked up during a five-month trek from southern Mexico, mostly by foot, up toward the border in Tijuana. He won’t say more.
They’d bought air tickets to a city in southern Mexico, no visa required to board the flight. Officially, entry visas are granted upon arrival. In practice, they are for sale. The price? “All of our money they could find.”
Their baby was born during the trek north. Two months old as the family was leaving a shelter in San Diego, the baby seemed healthy. The father was the picture of frontier immigrant determination and enterprise. The mother, clearly in a state of trauma edging into panic as they were separated for the extensive search by TSA at the San Diego airport. Their only federal ID was the packet of release papers from ICE detention, neatly folded inside plastic protectors. A shelter volunteer helped them navigate the uniformed officials at the airport, most kind and helpful, though more than one brusque and intimidating.
And then they were off, heading to the home of their uncle in Florida.
New York’s Amsterdam News reports that “as of August 2019, the latest figures available, 9,551 migrants from the Caribbean were detained in Mexico. That is compared to only 343 during the same eight-month period in 2018. Most were primarily from the nations of Cuba and Haiti fleeing economic woes in their nations.”
“During the period January through August of this year, the apprehension of Africans in Mexico grew more than ten-fold, from 507 last year to 5,286 migrants this year. Most apprehended were from Cameroon or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa).”
The Amsterdam News article is here: http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2019/nov/07/african-and-caribbean-migrants-us-southern-border/
The Hill reports on a visit by a delegation of U.S. Congress members to the border to learn more about African and Caribbean immigrants, here: https://thehill.com/homenews/house/472162-lawmakers-visit-african-migrants-at-us-mexico-border
From the article in The Hill: “A group of lawmakers are sharing stories from migrants seeking to enter the United States following a visit last week to the country’s southern border, where they met individuals from Africa and African diaspora countries who are awaiting asylum processing.
“The group of members from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) visited migrants at the San Ysidro port of entry between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. CBC Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) led the group and was joined by fellow CBC members Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.). Rep. Juan Vargas (D), who represents California’s single border district, also joined.”