Cracking Down on Crossings
Since the 2010 earthquake, the U.S. has made it easy for most Haitian immigrants to stay.
Those who were convicted of crimes or who were thought to pose a threat to national security were deported. All others were able to apply for asylum and were given permission to stay until they could plead their case at a hearing, which can often come years later, said Faye Hipsman, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute.
About 105,000 Haitians moved to the U.S. from 2010 to 2014, according to the 2014 American Community Survey, with most traveling by boat or plane.
It’s unclear whether more Haitians have been arriving this year. What is clear is that they are taking a new route, connecting with smugglers who are leading them through Central America on foot, by bus or by plane, and across the southwest border.
Most haven’t lived in Haiti for years, Hipsman said. They have been in Brazil, which offered them work permits after the earthquake. Now, with the Brazilian economy collapsing, many are without work, and they have no deep ties there, she said.
Since the change in DHS policy, Haitians are being detained at the border until their asylum hearings, which are being expedited, according to immigration attorneys in California and Miami.
But attorneys such as Holly Cooper, associate director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California-Davis, say stricter immigration policies do not deter desperate people from trying to get into the U.S. She said Haitians may continue to try to come here, especially after the hurricane.
“When people are afraid, or economically destitute, they are going to risk anything that they have,” Cooper said. “When your life and your children’s lives are not in safety, you’re willing to risk a possible deportation.”
Where Haitians Go
Why Haitians are crossing into San Diego isn’t clear. It could be that smugglers are making that route available. It could be that migrants feel the California border region is safer than others. Or it could be because there are direct flights from southern Mexico to Tijuana.
After crossing, most Haitians have been heading where they have always gone, many to Miami, some to the Northeast.
Nearly half the 636,500 people who were born in Haiti and immigrated to the U.S. reside in Florida, according to the 2014 American Community Survey. New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey also have large numbers of Haitians.
There, they find family, community groups and government programs to help them settle.
Overall, the number of people of Haitian descent living in the U.S. is about a million, including both immigrants and people who were born in the U.S., according to the 2015 American Community Survey.
In California, the influx has been noticeable. About 1,500 Haitians who entered the U.S. between 2010 and 2014 live in the state, according to the 2014 survey. But last month alone, the county of San Diego assisted 150 Haitians who plan to stay in the state.
The county gives them health screenings and helps them look for work and apply for benefits.
Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies said that something needed to be done to combat the influx, which was burdening local governments. Many of the immigrants don’t speak English. They need immediate assistance, Vaughan said.
But in Miami, Democratic state Rep. Daphne Campbell, a Haitian immigrant who represents parts of Miami, said that if the U.S. deports Haitians, many will go back to a country where they may no longer have families, a place to stay or connections to jobs.
Cheryl Little, an immigration attorney in Miami who works with Haitians, said those she helps have nothing to go back to. “It’s been difficult for us, when getting these calls, to provide peace of mind.”