TIJUANA—Gerald carries a small photo of his wife next to the fold of foreign bills he’s collected from the 10 countries he passed through to get here.
The photo reminds him why he’s making the journey. And the bills are souvenirs for his kids—a way to illustrate the story he’ll tell them of his arduous two-month trek to the United States.
But first he has to get there. Unfortunately for Gerald, he arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border a few days too late. Now he’s stuck in Tijuana along with thousands of other Haitians.
On Sept. 22, the U.S. effectively closed its priority access lane for Haitian immigrants. Prior to that, Haitians had been allowed to enter the U.S. without fear of deportation, as part of a temporary reprieve following the devastating 2010 earthquake that punched Haiti to the floor.
Gerald was one of 50,000 Haitians who moved to Brazil after the earthquake to find a job in construction. But when the economy went south, many Haitians went north—beating a new trail to the U.S. And now that they’re arriving at the U.S. border in massive numbers, Uncle Sam has decided to cancel his open invite.
Three weeks ago Homeland Security announced it would resume deportations to Haiti. “The situation in Haiti has improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis,” said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, managing to keep a straight face.
His optimism was poorly timed. Twelve days later Hurricane Matthew slobbered its way across Haiti, killing 900 people and destroying farms. The U.S. has since decided to temporarily suspend removal flights to Haiti, but insists it won’t reverse its position. “This should be clear: the policy change I announced on September 22 remains in effect, for now and in the future,” Johnson said.
So now it’s babay, Haitians. All newcomers need to form a single file line at the nearest immigrant detention center to file an asylum request and begin their deportation proceedings.
Fusion requested information from Homeland Security about how many Haitians have been apprehended at the border since Sept. 22, but was told the data is not readily available. Fusion also requested information from the Justice Department about how many Haitians have filed asylum claims since then, but was told it could take up to two weeks to provide an answer.
For people like Gerald, the U.S. policy change is like getting invited over to someone’s house then getting arrested when you ring the doorbell. He’s one of the untold thousands of Haitian immigrants stranded between Brazil and Tijuana, with nowhere to go. They can’t continue forward without risking deportation, and they can’t go back to Brazil because all the jobs have dried up. So they’re stuck in the middle, stateless, impoverished, displaced and mostly unwanted wherever they stop to rest.