US immigration policy change fails to prevent Haitian Mexico exodus

The immigration agency of Mexico, sitting at the border to the US, found itself with a crowd of almost 1000 Haitians gathered outside, shoving at the door and shouting. The immigration agency has become the focal point for thousands of desperate wannabe immigrants hoping to be allowed into the US.

In recent months, a couple of thousand Haitians have headed for Tijuana, traveling 7000 miles from Brazil by taxis, buses, and on foot. They have overwhelmed immigrants shelters, often ending up sleeping outside on cardboard sheets. The influx has been so great that Mexican authorities decided, in August, to impose an appointment system to prevent the Haitians from interrupting other visitors to one of the busiest border crossings in the world.

Many Haitians seem unaware that their desperate trip and border scramble is likely to be in vain. On 21 September, the Department of Homeland Security started placing Haitian immigrants in detention facilities before sending them home. This is a change from the previous policy of allowing them to be freed on humanitarian parole. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti saw the US soften its posture, but now these immigrants are to be treated the same as any others.

A large number of Haitians have arrived in Tijuana without knowledge of the shift in immigration policy, but even those who are aware say that it was far too late for them to turn back.