JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – After an arduous months-long journey, dozens – perhaps hundreds – of Haitian citizens have made their way to Juarez intent on crossing the U.S. border or finding work in Mexico.
The Haitians can be seen walking downtown, working on sidewalk stalls in the Market District and melting into neighborhoods near the Rio Grande. With U.S. ports of entry still off-limits to asylum seekers, the migrants are settling in for the long run while they find legal advice or gather enough resources to continue their trek northward.
New arrivals like Pierre Veronel and Jean Cederniel said they were among the thousands who broke out of the open air “prison city” of Tapachula with one of the migrant caravans that left Southern Mexico in late October and early November. They share an apartment with eight other migrants and found jobs as construction hands.
“We are good people. We don’t want to cause harm. We just want help getting work because we have a wife and children (back in Haiti),” Cederniel said in creole as Veronel translated.
The two men said they left Haiti several years ago when work was plentiful in Brazil, a country that hosted the World Cup in 2014 and the Rio 2016 Olympic games. But when the jobs dried up because of COVID-19, they joined many other countrymen who bolted for the United States. Like many of their peers, their journey came to a halt in Southern Mexico.
“Things are difficult when you leave one country and go to another,” Cederniel said as he and Veronel prepared to sand the ceiling and paint the walls of a house in Central Juarez.
“You have to work to live. You have to do whatever job you find. You cannot come to another country to do bad things or to (ask for a handout). All we are asking for is work,” Veronel added.
The men said going back to Haiti isn’t an option due to perennial lack of jobs and now the political upheaval since the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
“The country has no president. It doesn’t have a government that can help its people,” Veronel said.
In the Market District, Alicia Benoit tended to a sidewalk toys-and-trinkets display. She said it’s better to endure hardship in search of a better life than to go back to a place where she or her family could come to harm. She brought her three children with her to Mexico, including one who requires frequent medical care.
“There are few jobs and there’s no safety in Haiti. That’s why people leave,” she said. “They killed one of my cousins […] even children are not safe going to school. There is no safety there.”
She said she spent 17 days sleeping on the streets of Tapachula before Mexican authorities gave her a one-year visitor’s permit to move about the country. She took a bus to Juarez but is afraid to cross into the United States to ask for asylum due to the possibility of being turned down and flown back to Haiti.
“Not right now. We’ll see how long we stay here in Juarez,” she said.
Other Haitians received a humanitarian permit after dropping out of the migrant caravans, so they are able to walk the streets of Juarez and look for work without fear of being apprehended by Mexican authorities.
“They are coming here with a humanitarian visitor’s card. That means they can get their CURP (work authorization) so any employer can hire them,” said Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua Population Council which runs Juarez’s Migrant Assistance Center.
Valenzuela said he doesn’t know how many Haitians are in Juarez right now because the humanitarian visas allow them to seek their own housing, so they’re not taken to shelters and counted unless they ask.
Local news reports say a couple hundred or maybe more have either arrived in Juarez from Southern Mexico in recent weeks or have been expelled from the United States under the Title 42 public health rule to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
But Valenzuela said it’s true that many of them are looking for work.
Abel Amador ran into the Haitians when a contractor brought them along to work in a house across the street from his motorcycle shop.
“They are very hard-working. They’re not construction experts but you see them carrying stuff, sanding the walls and ceilings and learning to paint,” Amador said.
He said the Haitians initially shied away from him, but eventually opened up. “We got used to seeing Cuban migrants in Juarez two years ago. The Haitians are our new Cubans now,” he said.
Veronel, who initially declined to be interviewed, said it’s hard to trust people you don’t know in a country you don’t know.
“You don’t know if the people want to help you” or take advantage of you, he said. For instance, he doesn’t know if the $200-a-month rent he’s paying at the shared apartment is a fair amount or too much for Juarez. “If someone wants to assist us with (guidance), we are in need of it,” he said.