Haitian illegal immigration is not really a topic I expected to address on this blog, but a few days ago an article caught my eye on Drudge. The article talked about how illegal immigrants from Haiti were pouring in through the port of San Ysidro, trying to gain entry to the United States. Many people likely thought “Haiti? What gives?”
The simple explanation which applies regardless of the country of origin, of course, is that the US government is encouraging it:
A Spanish-language leaflet that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided to the Mexican Embassy in Washington advises border-crossing Mexicans that they can collect taxpayer-funded food stamp benefits for their children without admitting that they’re illegal immigrants.
Underlined and in boldface type, the document tells immigrants who are unlawfully in the United States that, ‘You need not divulge information regarding your immigration status in seeking this benefit for your children.’
The USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, is funded in order to prevent hunger by helping poor families maintain a basic level of nutrition for both adults and children.
But I was interested in the question of “Why Haiti, specifically, and why now?”
Haiti is one of the most miserable places on earth and is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. The country’s history is marked with violence, dictatorship, and political chaos. Their economy is very limited with little opportunity for advancement there, and the country is heavily dependent on foreign aid from the United States and Venezuela. Most recently, the country was devastated by a 7.0 earthquake in 2010 which destroyed the capital Port-au-Prince and the city Cap-Haïtien. The country was ravaged by a deadly cholera outbreak as well. Billions in foreign aid from the US and other countries were earmarked for Haiti, but much appears to have been wasted on providing short term refugee housing and encampments rather than clearing the rubble of the destroyed cities and building replacement housing.
It should be clear that no one wants to live in Haiti, and so Haitian illegal immigration is a huge problem in the Caribbean, especially in the wake of the earthquake. It should be no surprise, then, that the other Caribbean Islands who are currently struggling with a huge debt crisis want no part of Haiti’s mess:
Here in the Bahamas, Mr. Timothee’s arrest coincided with stepped-up immigration raids in predominantly Haitian shantytowns, where people who lacked passports or work permits were apprehended. When illegal immigrants ran from officers, the agents knocked down doors and took their children, and the photos of toddlers being carried away circulated widely on social media.
Since the policy took effect Nov. 1, children born in the Bahamas have been deported with their parents, and others with Haitian-sounding names have been pulled from school classrooms, human rights observers said. The government acknowledges that even Bahamian citizens with French surnames are frequently arrested by mistake. In September alone, 241 Haitians were deported, according to government figures.
Though 85 percent of Bahamians support the new policy according to one poll, it has set off a round of international condemnation. A Florida legislator called for a tourism boycott of the Bahamas and organized a protest at the nation’s Miami consulate. Citing some of the more alarming cases, including that of a pregnant Haitian woman who gave birth on an immigration detention center floor aided only by other detainees, several international groups have asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intervene.
The Bahamas is one of the biggest targets for Haitian illegal immigration. But they aren’t the biggest one:
It began in 2013, when a Dominican court ruling stripped up to 200,000 Haitian immigrants and their descendants of their Dominican citizenship — a stunning and unprecedented reversal of the country’s normal rules allowing birthright citizenship. Thousands of Dominicans were put at risk of being deported to Haiti, where many also lack citizenship.
The Dominican legislature followed the ruling with the Naturalization Law, or Law 169-14. In theory, the law is supposed to help disenfranchised Dominicans reclaim their citizenship, but it puts the burden of proof on the victims to provide records of their births — or even their parents’ births — in the Dominican Republic.
Yet many of these births were never registered, in many cases because Dominican officials deliberately denied records to people of Haitian descent. There’s hardly any official reporting on how many Haitians have been successful at obtaining Dominican citizenship, though not even 7,000 were able to apply before the window closed last June. The rest must now register as foreigners in their country. Meanwhile, anti-Haitian lawmakers like Vinicio Castillo Semán are fighting for legislation to deny nationality to all children born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic.
Dominican President Danilo Medina has claimed that mass deportations aren’t going to happen, and even issued a moratorium on expulsions through June 2015. Since then, though, some 14,000 people have been officially deported, alongside 70,000 others who’ve left “voluntarily.” Even during the moratorium, there were reports of summary removals of people based solely on their appearance.
I was unable to find a single article that did not go on to decry these deportations as a gross human rights violation.
I think these mass deportations are what has triggered the recent wave of Haitian immigration to the US. Many of the Caribbean Islands, unwilling and/or unable to pay for the Haitian illegal immigrants in their own countries, have launched a tough crackdown on the Haitians that have been flooding their countries for years. In the Bahamas, for example, an article in the Nassau Guardian explained that one out of every ten people living in the Bahamas as of 2013 is an illegal immigrant from Haiti, prior to that country’s crackdown on illegal immigration. But Haiti is a miserable hellhole, and most of these people for very good reason don’t want to live there.
So then the question is, if the usual options in the Caribbean are closed, where do the Haitians flee to? I think you know the answer.