I have a confession. Sometimes I read the news and am disappointed in myself– disappointed that I am completely blind to some of the most terrible things going on in the world. Sometimes I read an article and just don’t understand how I didn’t know this information before. This past Friday was one of those times where I felt like the classic “uninformed American.” (In my defense, it doesn’t help that the divorce of “Brangelina” was in the news more than Obama’s address to the United Nations National Assembly. Smh, as the kids say.) Last week, I found an article in the New York Times about the U.S. tightening its immigration policy for Haitians. Though it may be embarrassing to admit, I actually had no idea about the recent wave of Haitian immigrants to the United States– something that has been going on since May.
If you’re like me and didn’t know about this either (it’s okay, you may remain anonymous), here’s a quick summary. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, many Haitians went to Brazil to find work. At the time, they met the great demand for cheap labor needed to prepare for the 2016 Olympics, but now, due to Brazil’s failing economy, many have lost their jobs and set their sights on the United States. The urgency to get to the U.S. has been heightened by the upcoming election, as Haitians fear the building of Trump’s wall if he were to get elected.
Unfortunately, due to recent developments in the U.S. immigration policy regarding Haitians, those who are lucky enough to survive the long, dangerous journey across nine international borders may not be any closer to salvation. Last Thursday, the Obama administration said that “it would fully resume deportations of undocumented Haitian immigrants” (Semple, NY Times, Sept. 22). This means that any and all Haitians arriving without a visa will now undoubtedly be turned away, a big change from the somewhat lax “humanitarian parole provision” used before, which allowed most Haitians to remain in the country for up to three years.
Mexican officials have reported that as many as 1,000 migrants are in Tijuana, where they are still awaiting appointments with American immigration officials, with thousands more on the way (Semple, NY Times, Sept. 23). Many still on the road are completely unaware of these policy changes and are in for a surprise when, and if, they reach the Mexico-Southern California border. This trip, which takes up to six months for some is not one that any migrant wants to face again. Homeland Security cites the huge surge as a major reason for the policy change, as well as the belief that the economic situation in Haiti had improved enough to allow a safe return for the Haitians. Many advocates have pushed back on this decision, hoping to urge Obama to change his mind. Ginger Jacobs, an immigration lawyer, has even said, “We object to a policy change that doesn’t appear to reflect an actual change in reality” (Semple, NY Times, Sept. 22). According to Rev. Pat Murphy, the director of one of the shelters in Tijuana, the migrants in his shelter talk about the incredible risks of making the same journey once again, “as if to say: ‘I can’t go back there. I’m alive’” (Semple, NY Times, Sept. 23).
This issue is obviously very complicated and involves many different factors, as some Haitians are completely unaffected by this policy change due to their “temporary protected status.” The fact that this “unusual surge in Haitian migrants was accompanied by an equally unusual surge in migrants from more than two dozen other countries” makes it even more difficult for the United States to handle (Semple, NY Times, Sept. 22). Despite this, I think I currently stand with the advocates against this policy change, as adequate evidence has not been provided to justify this sudden decision that has come as a surprise for many exhausted survivors of the route from Brazil to the United States. I will be anxiously awaiting news of what will happen next.