Haitian Migrants In San Diego Are Making Their Way To Miami

Dec 15, 2016

The dead bodies haunt Wislande Philippe.

“There were so many who died,” said Phillipe, 29. “Pregnant women. Children. You’re walking past them and there’s nothing you can do help them.”

Philippe is one of thousands of Haitians who have taken a perilous 11-country journey from Brazil to reach the United States.  

In some cases, the migrants were living in Brazil, which welcomed Haitians after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, but now with the country’s failing economy many are fleeing poverty there in the hopes of a better life in the U.S.

Also, as attempts to reach the U.S. via the water has become increasingly difficult because of Coast Guard interceptions -- Haitian migrants and their smugglers are opting to come by land through Brazil to San Diego, California.

Philippe took the trek with her boyfriend Alexi Mayky. At night they slept alongside rivers and in bushes.

“We went through a lot to get here. We just want a chance to work and live in this country” said Mayky who is now living in Miami with Philippe.

When the migrants do make it to the U.S. San Diego, California is only a temporary stop.

“Ninety percent are headed to the East coast,” said Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, a non profit that has been helping to connect Haitian migrants with their families and friends stateside.

“They’re headed mostly to Florida, the Miami and Orlando area and some are going to New York,” she said.

Rodeline Pierre and her 1-year old son took the perilous journey from Brazil to San Diego, California. Her husband was detained by U.S. immigration officials. She was released and now lives in Miami.
Credit Nadege Green / WLRN

The office of Famn Ayisyen Nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami) in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood is usually busy.

On a recent afternoon, a staff member was helping Rodilen Pierre find emergency housing for the night.

Pierre is a recent arrival from San Diego. Immigration authorities released her and her one-year old son Dieuveson.

Her husband is in a detention center, likely awaiting deportation. She hasn’t heard from him after he was transferred from a California detention facility to another location.

“I didn’t know it would be like this,” said Pierre. “I’m all by myself with nowhere to go relying on complete strangers for help.”

Her husband’s family in Miami took her in for a few nights, but once they realized he probably wouldn’t be released any time soon they told her she would have to find somewhere else to live.

At one point some migrants at the border were being released with  monitoring bracelets and future court hearings because of limited jail space.

After Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in October, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement temporarily halted all deportations, but have since taken a more hard lined stance.

Haitians entering the U.S. who are not deemed in fear of persecution will be detained and deported back to Haiti, said Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Department for Homeland Security  in a November statement

“I have authorized ICE to acquire additional detention space so that those apprehended at the border and not eligible for humanitarian relief can be detained and sent home as soon as possible,” said Johnson.

Bastien and advocates in immigration circles argue the deportations should stop.

“The impact mainly is on women, the mothers without their mates and also it impacts Haiti which is trying so hard to rebuild,” Bastien said adding after Hurricane Matthew, recent deadly floods and a cholera epidemic the country is not in any condition to receive deportees.

It took Marie Carmelle Hector three months to get from Brazil to the U.S. She traveled with her four-year old son and her husband.

Hector  describes having to drink water from rivers alongside cows.There were long stretches when she didn’t have any food  for her four-year old son.

“He nearly died of hunger,” she said.

When Hector finally made it to the U.S., she asked for asylum saying she feared an uncle in Haiti who threatened to kill her if she didn’t turn over her family’s land.

Hector was detained for a few days and then released.

A family member in Miami purchased Greyhound bus tickets for her and her son.

On the day of our interview, she had just found out her husband who still being held in detention was deported back to Haiti.

Through tears, she said this is the first time she’s ever been separated from her husband of six years.

“I’m very, very sad, but I have to be strong now,” she said.

Rosilia Auguste hadn't heard back from a nephew who was detained in California. She fears if he is returned to Haiti he may attempt to commit suicide.
Credit Nadege Green / WLRN

Rosilia Auguste was at home in Miami when she got a call from her nephew who’d been working in the Dominican Republic.

He told her violence against Haitian laborers was increasing so he was fleeing to Brazil to take the journey to get to Miami.

He tried to discourage him, but it didn’t work.  

When her nephew got to California, he was detained.

Auguste said the last time she spoke to her nephew he said if he’s forced to return to Haiti, he would hurt himself.

“He can’t go back,” she said. “He has nothing to go back to.”

The Haiti Embassy in Washington D.C. has set up a hotline for families to call for information about detainees: 202-549-8712.  Or email amb.washington@diplomatie.ht with a subject line that reads "Detainee Assistance."