PORT-AU-PRINCE, October 7 (Reuters) – Alie Sajous and Macdalla Renois both left Haiti years ago in search of a new life in South America, but struggled there. This summer, the two of them decided to embark on a grueling journey through a dozen countries to seek new life in the United States.
Renois was very pregnant when she walked for days in the jungle between Colombia and Panama. After Sajous’ family crossed the same dangerous stretch, her toddler had to be hospitalized for several days.
The two women went separately to the US-Mexico border. In mid-September, they forded the Rio Grande – Renois hugging her week-old baby who had been born crossing Mexico – to join thousands of other migrants, mostly Haitians, in a makeshift camp under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
It was there, after days of sleeping outside in the scorching heat, that their destinies radically diverged.
U.S. immigration officials loaded Renois, 32, her husband Oberto Destinoble, 40, and their baby on a plane and sent them back to Haiti – a country plagued by political crises, violence and natural disasters – even though they hadn’t lived there for years.
Renois said she never had a chance to tell border officials she feared being returned to Haiti, which effectively denied her the right to seek asylum under US and international law. . On the flight back to Haiti, she said her hands and feet were handcuffed and tied with a chain around her waist, like all adults on the plane, making it difficult to hold her daughter.
“I didn’t steal anything, I’m not a criminal. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve been chained this way,” she said.
Around the same time, U.S. immigration officials released Sajous, her husband, and daughter to join relatives in Florida, which allowed her to settle in the United States if she won. his trial in immigration court. However, she noted that no U.S. official had asked her if she wanted asylum or if she feared returning to Haiti.
“They never asked me for anything,” she said.
The women are among more than a dozen migrants interviewed by Reuters who said they were not given any explanation as to why they were returned to Haiti or allowed to stay in the United States when US authorities dismantled the migrant camp last month.
A spokesperson for the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said late last month that some migrants had been allowed to remain in the United States due to “acute vulnerability” or “if the operational capability l ‘demanded’. DHS did not respond to a request for comment on individual cases or provide additional reasoning behind its decision regarding the evictions.
The very different experiences of the two Haitian families owe a lot to a policy put in place by former President Donald Trump at the border that allows border officers to quickly deport migrants without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum.
Known as Title 42, the policy was pointedly aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, but migrant advocates say it has become a practical way for Trump to reduce the number of asylum seekers, and President Joe Biden has mainly continued its use since taking office in January.
Haitian migrants interviewed by Reuters reported inconsistent testing for COVID-19 at the border, with some who were deported saying they had not been tested in the United States at all. A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said anyone showing signs of illness in detention is referred to local health systems for proper testing, diagnosis and treatment.
The fate of the two women, inflicted without explanation, mirrors that of thousands of others.
From September 19 to October 3, DHS deported 7,016 Haitians from the border by air. About half, or 3,460, were parents with children.
As of September 27, 10,000 Haitians have been authorized to enter the United States to pursue their immigration cases in court, while another 3,000 are in migrant detention.
In addition to Haitians, hundreds of thousands of mainly Central American migrants have been deported to Mexico since the inception of the Title 42 policy in March 2020, while Biden exempted unaccompanied minors and also freed some families. from Central America to the United States. .
(A graphic on the migrant camps: https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-IMMIGRATION/MEXICO/mopankddwva/index.html)
“Everything is so arbitrary,” said Clara Long, associate director at Human Rights Watch.
Although one finds herself in relative safety in Florida and the other in chains in Haiti, the two women have experienced equally traumatic trips to the United States.
Renois gave birth to her baby in August in a hospital near the Mexico-Guatemala border. Still bleeding from their Caesarean section, the new family made a three-day bus ride to the Rio Grande across from Del Rio, Texas. There, with Renois hugging her husband Destinoble in one hand and Angelina in the other, they waded into the United States.
Neither could swim and in a terrifying moment Renois tripped, fell to his knees, and briefly lost her baby’s hold in the water.
“It was the worst time of my life,” she said.
Destinoble was on the banks of the Rio Grande last month when US Border Patrol agents on horseback loaded Haitian migrants. The incident, captured in photos and video, went viral and Biden called it “horrible” and “outrageous.”
A former mechanic and security guard, Destinoble said he fled Haiti in 2019 after a gang member tried to recruit him.
He moved to Chile and found work in the fruit fields and Renois quickly followed, but struggled to find a job. The couple borrowed from relatives and saved the $ 10,000 it would cost to head north.
Both said they did not expect to be deported to Haiti, but are now trying to get a Mexican passport for Angelina who has a Mexican birth certificate. Once that is achieved, they plan to move back, they said, hoping to make a living in Mexico.
Sajous, 29, said he left Haiti in 2015 after escaping an attempted kidnapping. Her mother spent around $ 4,000 to travel to Chile where she entered on a tourist visa. Not knowing anyone, she struggled to find work and experienced periods of homelessness until she met her husband Marcus who had a job in construction.
This summer, the couple had saved the $ 11,000 they needed for their trip to the United States. With their two-year-old daughter, Zarah, they traveled by bus and plane through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, where they traversed the jungle from Darien Gap to Panama for eight days, often without food, she said.
Zarah contracted a bacterial infection and spent 3 days in a hospital in Costa Rica. They then crossed through Central America and found themselves stranded in southern Mexico for a month.
The family arrived at the US-Mexico border and slept on the ground below the bridge for several days until they were transferred to a border patrol facility.
One day, they were told that they were going to be released. Her cousin in Florida bought the family’s plane tickets and were told to register with U.S. immigration officials, giving them a cell phone connected to GPS and telling them they couldn’t not travel too far from their home.
Without a lawyer to help them file a refugee claim or work permit, navigating the pending U.S. immigration court system is a daunting process.
If it turns out that a migrant is “firmly resettled” in another country before arriving in the United States, in many cases he may not be eligible for US protection. Proving a case in immigration court can be difficult and take months or even years.
“I’m worried about what’s going to happen now,” Sajous said.
Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince; Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco, Daina Beth Soloman in Ciudad Acuna, Daniel Becerril in Del Rio and Marco Bello in Lake Park; Editing by Alistair Bell
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