Haitians Are Fleeing Their Country for a Better Life and Should Be Allowed Into the US, Some Experts Say

Many migrants initially left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Now they are searching for a better life.

The images have been striking. Haitian migrants struggling to enter the southern border of the United States, and some of them are being repelled with force. But how did this situation come to be?

According to journalist and Haiti expert Jonathan M. Katz, many migrants left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

"The vast majority of these people, while they originated in Haiti, within about the last ten years, were part of a group of people who left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, which was a horrendous, catastrophic earthquake in January 2010," Katz said.

That natural disaster, Katz added, killed hundreds of thousands and destroyed most of the region.

"It was absolutely terrible. And in the aftermath of that, a number of Haitians felt they just couldn't cut it in Haiti anymore," he said. "They couldn't provide for their families. Things weren't getting better, so they moved to Brazil and Chile in South America."

Haitian American advocate Jocelyn McCalla says she knows some of the people at the border.

"They are people who essentially left their country, invited, to some extent, by the countries of Chile and Brazil to work there legally in projects that required their presence, their labor," McCalla said.

But after several years, things worsened in Brazil and Chile as well, according to Katz.

"There's an authoritarian president in Brazil," Katz said. "There's a fair amount of racism and xenophobia, and the economy of both countries, like the rest of the world, has taken a big hit in the coronavirus pandemic."

So many decided to risk their lives by making the treacherous trip north to the United States to Canada. And as one can imagine, it wasn't easy.

"So essentially, these people walked 7,000 miles," Katz explains. "Hitched rides, got on trains. But for the most part, did it on foot.

"They've gone through a lot. You know, people have died on this trip," Katz continued. "People have gotten very badly injured on this trip."

Many died before they reached their destination. And making it to the border carries no assurance of being granted asylum by the U.S.

"They've come to the United States hoping for a better life, and at the moment, we are not letting them in," Katz said. "And I think it says something about how desperate people are, how much they want a better life for themselves and their children, that they're willing to put themselves in these circumstances."

"Many of them just hope that they could eke out a living and, if they have the opportunity, claim asylum," McCalla added.

One man told Reuters, "I want to look for a better life wherever I might find it." And for many, they just want to feel safe.

"They just want safety. They just want a better life," Katz said. "They just want to enjoy some degree of security and prosperity and freedom that the United States, at least in theory, promises."

Although the migrants are following the law in seeking asylum, McCalla said many of them have still been sent back to Haiti.

"Most of the people who have been obviously deported to Haiti will end up in a situation that is worse than the situation that they left back five, six, or 10 years ago," McCalla said.

"They left for a reason," Katz added. "They left because there wasn't work. They left because there wasn't enough food for their kids. They left because they couldn't afford rent. And so, you have those people back in the country, and they're back in the same situation."

McCalla said the U.S. should allow the migrants in, and not as an act of charity.

"We need to provide safe haven to people who are seeking safe haven temporarily in the United States," she said. "Welcome them, because frankly, they may be some of the best people that the United States will welcome in a long time because they are ambitious, they work hard.

"We're not talking about people who are going to be a burden on the United States," she continued. "They may need some help at the beginning, but eventually, they make it, and they are embraced by the community. And they embrace the idea that this society stands for."

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