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Haitians have become the model immigrant in the eyes of many Tijuanenses.
Even Tijuana’s mayor has held up the Haitians as an example of how the thousands of arriving Central Americans should behave. Haitians pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, found jobs and never asked for food or shelter, the narrative goes.
I sat down with 25-year-old Ustin Pascal Dubuisson, a Haitian migrant who arrived in Tijuana in 2016. Dubuisson recently wrote a book, “Sobrevivientes: Ciudadanos del Mundo,” or “Survivors: Citizens of the World,” about his journey from Brazil to Tijuana — one that thousands of Haitians made in 2014 after a devastating earthquake.
Many Haitians had gone to Brazil, where job opportunities were plentiful before the World Cup. Dubuisson worked in a restaurant. In 2016, when the World Cup ended, however, the opportunities in Brazil waned with the economy. Many were hoping to reach the United States to take advantage of a temporary immigration status being granted to Haitians after the earthquake, but Dubuisson said by the time he arrived, President Barack Obama had closed the window to apply.
Roughly 20,000 Haitians arrived in Tijuana in 2016. Most entered the United States, but more than 3,000 remained, creating a Haitian community in the border city. They call themselves “Haitijuanenses.”
Dubuisson is tired of the rhetoric pitting Haitian migrants against the Central Americans who arrived as part of a caravan.
“It’s bad,” he said. “Many people are using Haitians to discriminate against Hondurans. I think that an immigrant is always an immigrant. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from — from India, from Africa, from Honduras, from Haiti. You’re always going to be an immigrant.”
While there were people in Tijuana who welcomed Haitians, there were also some who were suspicious of them, Dubuisson said. His first days in Tijuana were difficult. He didn’t speak Spanish and he had no money.
“We waited to see if the city would give us a chance to show them that we’re not here to do bad things,” he said. “The Central Americans want this too.”
The divisive rhetoric that tries to pit one group of immigrants against another is used to weaken them, Dubuisson said.
“The people who understand the Hondurans the best are the people who also made the journey,” he said. “For example, Haitians, we took almost the same path, walking, traveling to try and find a better life.”
That’s partly why Dubuisson wrote his book, he said, which detailed that journey. He wants people to understand what immigrants go through — the long, dangerous travel that’s often required — to seek better opportunities.
“Telling stories is the best way for us to be able to fight this battle for migrants. I left Haiti because I was looking for a better opportunity for my life, for my future,” he said. “Because Haiti isn’t a country that can offer me what I need.”
To reach Tijuana, Dubuisson had to traverse the treacherous Darien Gap, dense jungle on the border of Colombia and Panama. There, he and his companions went days without eating or sleeping, he said. Many people died.
Dubuisson knew from the start that he wanted to write about the journey. He took notes on his phone, on pieces of toilet paper, whatever he could find.
At one point, Dubuisson was robbed of all his things, including his cellphone. But when he reached Tijuana, he resolved to write about the journey.
“It’s a book to show many young people that life is often difficult but if you decide to do good things, you’ll have opportunities to come out ahead,” he said. “This book is a way to tell my story and it’s a way for people to understand what it’s like for an immigrant to migrate from one country to another, so they’ll stop discriminating against migrants.”
That’s why the rhetoric from many Tijuanenses about the caravan bothers him.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from; I don’t want immigrants to be put against other immigrants,” Dubuisson said. “We’re coming to a country to try and get what we couldn’t in our country. And we’re trying to do what we can so people respect us.”
- The Union-Tribune also checked in with several Haitians in Tijuana. Many are glad they’re seen well by Tijuanenses and are doing well in the city, but others’ experiences haven’t been so easy.
You’re reading the Border Report, Voice of San Diego’s biweekly roundup of news from the San Diego-Tijuana region. You can subscribe here.
More on the Caravan: Timelines, Missing Members and Misconceptions
This report from El Colegio de la Frontera Norte is the most comprehensive account of the caravan I’ve seen. It includes a timeline, policy suggestions and survey results from speaking with more than 1,000 Central American migrants.
Many of the thousands of Central American migrants who were in the makeshift shelter in the Benito Juarez sports complex were relocated to a new shelter in El Barretal, an old concert hall, roughly a week ago. A group of people refused to leave Benito Juarez and Mexican authorities arrested one woman considered to be the leader of that group, reports Televisa.
Roughly 3,000 migrants have gone “missing” in Tijuana, meaning they’re not in either Benito Juarez or El Barretal, Univision reports. Many migrants have chosen to go home after realizing attaining asylum in the United States wouldn’t be easy, the Union-Tribune reports. The U-T also tried to figure out who was leading the caravan.
Many people, faced with a months-long wait to request asylum, have considered and attempted crossing illegally. The Washington Post looks at how migrants are weighing their options given the circumstances. The Union-Tribune lays out what could happen to the people who opt to cross illegally.
There have also been job fairs for the Central Americans in Tijuana. As of last week, roughly 60 people had gotten jobs, hundreds have been approved for visas and thousands of visas are still being processed, reports Sarah Kinosian, a freelance journalist who has been reporting on the caravan since its inception.
- The Wall Street Journal talked to Central American mothers about why they join caravans.
- The Union-Tribune laid out the dos and don’ts when it comes to trying to help caravan members. Donating money to reputable organizations is a good thing to do, but donating used clothes from San Diego isn’t terribly helpful, since Mexico won’t take imported used clothing.
- A mysterious, fake Facebook account played a role in making the exodus of Central Americans since October so huge. (Buzzfeed)
- NBC found out more about the Department of Homeland Security’s claim that there are 600 criminals in the caravan. More than three-quarters of those criminal charges are for illegal entry, illegal re-entry or DUIs.
- This report about Central American migrants who have died or gone missing trying to cross Mexico drives home why migrants travel in caravans. (Associated Press)
- The closures and uncertainty at the border at the moment is making the lives of cross-border students difficult. (Vice)
- CityLab explains the link between border militarization and urban policing in American cities.
Asylum Wait Times Are Longest in Tijuana
A new report by the University of Texas at Austin Robert Strauss Center, the University of California San Diego Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies and the Migration Policy Center looks systematically at asylum procedures along the U.S.-Mexico border. One finding: Asylum-seekers in Tijuana face the longest waits to request asylum.
- While illegal crossings are down from decades ago, asylum requests are at an all-time high. (Wall Street Journal)
- Buzzfeed reported that the Trump administration is considering making people pay for the right to seek asylum.
- Unaccompanied minors aren’t being allowed to request asylum at the ports of entry in San Diego-Tijuana. (Union-Tribune)
Mexico’s Got a New President
Andrés Manuel López Obrador was inaugurated last Saturday, promising a profound transformation of Mexico.
Members of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce were present – a testament to the local importance of U.S.-Mexico relations. Chamber CEO Jerry Sanders attended and told me that while no one is sure of the future of AMLO-Trump relations, he’s optimistic that the new Mexican president thinks the border region is important from an economic perspective.
“I think businesses are still not sure how to react, but you could feel the excitement of the working class at the inauguration,” Sanders said.
Sanders said it seems as though the new administration is willing to invest in infrastructure at the border, like the new Otay Mesa East Port of Entry that has been in the works.
AMLO, in his speech Saturday, also indicated his administration would reduce taxes in the border zone to encourage economic activity in the region, which Sanders said will pull more investment into the region. Ensenada was originally left out of the border zone, but after political pushback, the AMLO administration changed its mind.
Sanders said that while relations between Mexico and the U.S. government seem increasingly tense, the Chamber tries to focus on building, maintaining and strengthening its local relationships within the border region and its relationships with federal officials in Mexico. Especially with the recent increase in disruptions at local ports of entry, which has businesses in both San Diego and Tijuana concerned, those relationships are more important than ever, he said.
“People only hear what Trump has to say and that’s never in actuality how it works in our region,” he said.
More Border News
- Zeta and AFN uncovered a prime example of corruption in Tijuana city government. A company that received a 2,600,000-peso contract — the equivalent of roughly $128,293 — from the city was formed only five months before receiving the contract, and it was created under the names of former municipal employees. The son of Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum also serves as a representative and director of the company.
- Mexico’s Senate is calling for an investigation into the misuse of nearly 6.4 billion pesos — about $315,636,204 — of public funds by Baja California Gov. Kiko Vega in 2016. (4 Vientos)
- Monthly border arrests reached a high in Trump’s administration in November (though they are still historically low), with numbers of family and unaccompanied minors being apprehended continuing to increase. (Washington Post)
- The Desert Sun has a blockbuster series on the toxic dumping grounds in Mexicali, its impacts on communities living nearby and the failure of government on both sides of the border to do anything about it.
- There have been more than 2,300 homicides in Tijuana this year. (Telemundo20)