TIJUANA, Mexico – Hundreds of Haitian migrants who became stranded in Tijuana nine months ago have been adapting to life in this northwestern Mexican border city, where they have found jobs and brought their own culture.
Louissaint Roosevelt, 26, is one of more than 3,000 Haitians still in Baja California, the northwestern Mexican state where large numbers of migrants from the impoverished Caribbean nation had waited fruitlessly for weeks starting in September 2016 for the chance to cross the border into the United States.
Like many of his fellow countrymen and women, Roosevelt has decided that staying in Tijuana is a better option because entering the US has become more difficult, partly due to President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“I’ll wait here, and I’ll be working,” said Roosevelt, who got a job as framer in a small company not too far from the shelter where he was lodged on arrival in this border city across from San Diego, California, in February.
He was one of many Haitians who came to Tijuana from Brazil, where they had taken advantage of opportunities provided by the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and worked in construction and other sectors.
Many Haitians embarked on the long journey to the US due to shrinking job opportunities in recession-hit Brazil; they had been drawn by a policy whereby US authorities had been allowing about 100 migrants per day to apply for entry via Tijuana.
But then-President Barack Obama’s administration caught many of these migrants off guard when it changed that policy last September, saying that Haitians who crossed into the US illegally would face deportation to their homeland.
Roosevelt said that Mexicans has been welcoming to him and that the other Haitians who came with him from Brazil had not had much trouble finding employment either.
The number of Haitians living in Tijuana shelters has fallen drastically and soup kitchens are no longer overflowing like they had been after these migrants began arriving en masse starting in late May of last year.
Even so, these migrants still need support in obtaining basic items.
The “Cielo sin fronteras” (Sky Without Borders) food hall launched a project named “Tijuana con trenzas” (Tijuana with Braids) in which Haitian women braid locals’ hair in exchange for staples such as cooking oil, tuna, sugar, soap or butter.
Most Haitian migrants work at maquiladoras (plants where goods are assembled for export), fisheries, car washes, farms or construction sites as “they wait for a legal permit to seek other jobs,” said Claudia Portela, coordinator of the Desayunador Padre Chava food hall.
“The city has shown great solidarity with the migrants,” she said. If there has been any instance of discrimination, “it has been minimal, the black grain in the rice.”