Now there is the crisis of Haitian immigrants on the border between Mexico and the United States. But there are also in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Panama …
He told BBC Mundo: “We are facing a crisis that was predictable, and she tried to make herself invisible for a long time.” Kaitlin Yates, an American anthropologist who studied the subject in depth.
Images of US border officials chasing Haitian migrants last week sparked outrage, as did thousands of people who spent days under the bridge linking the Mexican and American sides.
The White House called pictureshomelyAnd announced the investigations. The US special envoy to Haiti resigned over “the inhuman treatment of Haitians”.
But for several months it was clear that tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants, who had left the country in the past decade, were on their way to the southern border of the United States.
As soon as the pandemic’s border restrictions were lifted, they headed north, until they crossed the terrifying Daren Gap between Panama and Colombia.
Little is known about the future of these migrants, but their past, or what happened after the earthquake that changed Haiti’s history in 2010, has been a major topic of study for Yates, an expert on migration, borders and security.
To understand what this wave of Haitian immigrants means, BBC Mundo spoke with the professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
What do we see now?
This is part of the migration of Haitians that began after the earthquake in 2010 that did not necessarily go, in principle, to the United States.
We are now looking for 15,000 Haitian immigrants at the US-Mexico border, but we should also be talking about the hundreds of thousands of Haitian immigrants who have spread across the Americas over the past 11 years.
And what we see now is the result of a decade-long process in which these people searched for, and did not find, opportunities for life and security in Latin America.
The current crisis is evidence of the lack of opportunities for Haitian immigrants in the entire region.
What distinguishes this wave of Haitian immigrants from earlier waves of Central America, for example?
One difference is that they did not immigrate to the United States first, but went to Brazil and Chile and stayed there until these options became unacceptable.
It is a double migration, showing the structural problems of countries such as Brazil and Chile, where they did not find economic opportunities, access to social services, employment, and a home.
Another factor is the pandemic, because Haitians have been migrating through Central America since 2016 but numbers have fallen in 2020 amid restrictions on movement.
As soon as the Haitians saw that the border had been opened, at least in part, they tried to achieve their goal months earlier, which was to immigrate to the United States.
The resentment and insecurity of Haitians in Chile and Brazil built up to the point that once the pandemic restrictions were lifted, they started their way north.
It does not start now: since the beginning of 2021 they have been moving through South and Central America and now they have reached the border between Mexico and the United States.
So this has little to do with the assassination of the president in July and the August earthquake. Will a new wave of immigrants come as a result of the recent political and climate crisis?
There will likely be more Haitians moving across the Americas overall, but it’s hard to tell, because many countries have put in place new restrictions on entry for Haitians and because we’re still in a pandemic and the costs for Haitians may currently be higher.
Most likely, more Haitians want to continue emigrating, but the question is where they can go and who will want to receive them.
Speaking of migrants in general, everything suggests that this could get worse: there are more climate crises, there is a pandemic, there is a social crisis. Are we facing an unprecedented scenario of immigration in America?
In terms of origin, yes, because they leave countries like Haiti or Venezuela. But there are also new destinations: Colombia, Costa Rica, Brazil and Mexico have become recipient countries. The reasons for migration are also different.
But migrants have been arriving at the US-Mexico border for decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, the number of immigrants arrested was higher than it is now.
Nor am I saying that the United States is in a worse position to receive immigrants, because, on the contrary, it has more information, better monitoring capacity and greater infrastructure.
This is probably a more complex immigration than its predecessors, because Haitians don’t speak Spanish, many hold dual citizenships, and again, we’re in a pandemic.
If the United States had more capacity to receive immigrants, what would have changed in its willingness to receive them, even with a democratic government like that of Joe Biden?
The immigration policies that the United States is now promoting at the border are, for the most part, a continuation of the policies implemented by Donald Trump.
Section 42 is still in place, allowing foreigners to be restricted from entering the country (due to the pandemic). Migrants are still being expelled.
There is a whole debate about whether Haitian immigrants think Biden would be more flexible in letting them in and staying and so they came. But I don’t think there is evidence of that, because there have never been any clear signs of a change in policy.
Is becoming an immigrant today more difficult than it was 10 or 20 years ago?
In terms of monitoring and information gathering, it becomes increasingly difficult to migrate without getting caught up in the authorities or being registered with a system. This makes crossing more difficult.
These information systems have become transnational. Therefore, if you are registered in one country, it is likely that you are not free from restrictions in another, because your name or biometric information has already been registered in the information systems shared by countries in the hemisphere.
And back to the topic of the epidemic that has restricted access to shelters or medical care.
Why aren’t Haitian immigrants the same as immigrants, for example, Venezuelans?
The first thing is that there wasn’t much in the beginning, but it also happened that countries like Chile, Brazil and other countries wanted to keep Haitian immigration off the radar so they didn’t have to allocate resources to attend it, especially at a time when they had to sponsor other migrations, like Venezuelans.
It is also true that the Haitians did not spend long periods in one place, but moved from Brazil to Chile, from Chile to Colombia, and so on.
But that’s also because countries like Colombia, Panama, and other Central American nations were interested in continuing the migration on its way: to push them north smoothly as long as they didn’t stay.
Many said to them: Go on your way, we can even facilitate that movement. And the matrix was established that Haitians, compared to Central American immigrants, were the model immigrants, meaning that they did not remain in Central America.
What is this about the immigrant model?
It is an idea that originated in Mexico, where they have been compared to immigrants from Central America.
When they began arriving in Mexico in 2016, Haitians were initially seen as adventurous and quiet immigrants who were limited to their space, while the Central American immigrant was deeper, more massive, and occupying public space.
But with the growth of Haitian immigrants, and their need to access services, they are no longer seen as an ideal.
Were they so typical that there wasn’t much?
Model as far as they are invisible. But that has now changed.
Interest in Haitian immigration has been low for several years. On the one hand, because there was not much, interest was not urgent in front of the media and the public. But also, as they started to see more, there was an attempt by many states to take the case away or push it to the next state.
The crisis we are witnessing today is the result of a decade of neglect of Haitian immigration.
Have countries tried to banish the crisis sooner or later? I know Was he making it visible?
An attempt was made to use as few resources as possible as long as Haitian immigrants did not reside in every country.
The 15,000 immigrants now on the Texas-Mexico border isn’t a huge number compared to the number of Haitian immigrants who passed through all of Latin America this year.
Now we’re seeing a crisis on the border between Mexico and the United States, but there’s also a crisis and there’s been in Mexico, Guatemala, Panama and Colombia, among other countries.
We are facing a crisis that has been foreseen, and has been trying to make itself invisible for a long time.
But now it is impossible to hide. Governments today can no longer make Haitian immigration invisible.
Do you think this disappearance is measured by racism?
The status of invisible Haitians is inherently linked to structural racism and discrimination in many countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Not only in the United States, but in Brazil or Chile where immigrants have also been displaced for the second time. Their status as migrants and refugees is twofold.
And where does this leave governments, from a moral standpoint, after ignoring the precarious situation of migrants of African descent?
Behind all this are structures of inequality that double or triple that of migrants of African descent.
Surprisingly, Haitians face discrimination in Brazil, a country where half of the population is of African descent. But they were also because of their poor condition and because they did not speak Portuguese or Brazilians.
This shows how deep these racial and discriminatory structures are throughout the Western Hemisphere (America).
Structural racism is the reason why Haitian immigrants go into hiding and many countries try to expel them as quickly as possible.
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