Mexican Shelter Holds Backlogged Haitian Immigrants


Mevil is a tall, full-figured woman with a singsong voice and curly brown hair, who describes the last two months of her life as a harrowing journey through Latin America by boat, plane, car and foot. She said a seven-day walking stretch proved deadly for some of her companions. Mevil is no stranger to death — she lost family in the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

In Tijuana, Mevil is staying at a women’s migrant shelter, Madre Asunta, awaiting a chance to speak with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

“I eat well, sleep well, and they give me clothes,” Mevil said of the shelter.

She is one of hundreds of Haitian immigrants flowing into Tijuana since late May with plans to enter the U.S., mostly due to a dire economic outlook in Brazil, where many moved after the 2010 earthquake. Worldwide demand for commodities was then buoying the economy of Brazil, with its diversity of natural resources. But employment opportunities have since evaporated due to plummeting oil prices and a political crisis tied to Brazil’s suspended president, who is facing possible impeachment.

Now, those migrants are coming north to the U.S.

Overwhelmed San Ysidro customs officials are relying on Tijuana’s migrant shelters for help while they catch up processing the rising tide of migrants, many of whom sleep on the sidewalk just south of the port of entry. Some seek political asylum. Some are from Africa. Most are Haitian migrants fleeing grim economic prospects.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that the agency will process these migrants on a “case by case” basis. While migrants await their turn, Tijuana’s shelters offer food and a place to sleep. At Madre Asunta, the Haitian women made friends with women from Central America and southern Mexico, who were also staying at the shelter. Their children played together as they communicated in a mix of gestures, smiles, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

“We’re a family,” Mevil said.

She told a Mexican woman about her difficult journey through Latin America, concluding, “I have more lives than a cat.”

The Mexican woman responded, “That means you have six more,” and they giggled together.

Footsteps away from Madre Asunta, a men’s migrant shelter called Casa del Migrante is accepting Haitian men as well as some women and children, because there aren’t enough beds at the women’s shelter.

Director Pat Murphy called the influx of migrants a “crisis” and “an emergency.”

“People here have told us, ‘there are thousands of people coming behind us,’” Murphy said.

During an especially busy day last week, Casa del Migrante slept 56 Haitians in addition to about 150 migrants from southern Mexico and Central America.

In less than two weeks, Murphy said his shelter received migrants from 11 different countries, mostly from Haiti. Murphy said he considers them refugees.

Although these migrants seek to enter the U.S., Tijuana must address the surge during the immigration backlog.

Casa del Migrante and three other Tijuana shelters are offering the migrants food and beds. Mexican immigration officials let the shelters know when U.S. Customs and Border Protection is ready to process a few more people.