Why Haitian Migrants May Continue To Journey To The U.S. : Consider This from NPR Thousands of Haitian migrants who had gathered on the southern border were deported back to their home country last week, even though some of them haven't lived there for a decade. They'd been living in Chile. But increasingly, Haitians in that country are fleeing, in response to a pandemic-battered economy, rising anti-immigrant sentiment, and new government policies.

All those factors are not disappearing any time soon — and neither is the flow of migrants out of the country, says Chilean journalist Ignacio Gallegos. NPR's John Otis reports on one part of their perilous journey north.

Additional reporting in this episode from Stephania Corpi. Special thanks to Texas Public Radio news director Dan Katz.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

Why A Growing Number Of Haitian Migrants Are Headed To The U.S.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This is what it sounded like in the northern Chilean city of Iquique last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Unintelligible).

CHANG: Video on social media shows anti-immigration protesters clustered around a large fire in the town square. They're throwing clothes into that fire and tents, bicycles, baby strollers. These things, they belong to migrants who mainly were from Venezuela and had been living in the city illegally.

IGNACIO GALLEGOS: So it was very violent and very sad to watch.

CHANG: Ignacio Gallegos is a journalist in Chile's capital, Santiago. He told NPR these violent demonstrations reflect a change in Chile over the last few years - more anti-immigration rhetoric from the government.

GALLEGOS: The government has been pushing a policy of return home. And at the same time, they have been pursuing people who come into the country illegally through raids and such.

CHANG: Gallegos says it's all added up to this.

GALLEGOS: A stronger sense of - that the Chilean community no longer wants so many immigrants.

CHANG: All that, coupled with an economy devastated by the pandemic, helps explain why so many immigrants in Chile have been fleeing the country, including people originally from Haiti, some of whom wound up at the U.S. southern border last week only to be deported back to their home country by the Biden administration. But more are on the way. And as one Haitian in Chile told NPR this week...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: ...People don't have any other option.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: CONSIDER THIS - the plight of Haitian migrants is not over, and we're learning more about the roots of the problem. From NPR, I'm Ailsa Chang. It's Wednesday, September 29.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Last week, more than 10,000 migrants, many of them Haitians, gathered near Del Rio, Texas. They had set up makeshift camps there on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. But soon, U.S. Border Patrol, with helicopters buzzing overhead, cleared out the camps on the U.S. side. Back on the Mexico side, a Haitian woman named Betania spoke to a reporter for NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BETANIA: (Through interpreter) You can't really sleep in the camp. I'm in God's hands alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: Some of the migrants from the cleared-out camps were taken to shelters nearby in Mexico. One, an abandoned event venue, had no roof, no bathrooms. Gerardo Ledesma, a local pastor, brought food to people there.

GERARDO LEDESMA: (Through interpreter) I'm seeing the need. The authorities have not provided the support until now that they have moved them here.

CHANG: Ledesma accused the U.S. and Mexican governments of rushing to clear the camps and harassing the migrants. The question now is, what will happen to other Haitians who are still on their way over? In a moment, we're going to talk more about why so many are making that journey. But first, reporter John Otis has this look at one stop along the way - a beach town in Colombia where some 20,000 Haitians have gathered.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: The Colombian town of Necocli sits on the Caribbean coast near the Panamanian border. Necocli used to fill up with tourists, but there's no longer any room for them. Now Haitian migrants, who lack money for hotels, have pitched tents on nearly every inch of the town's sandy beaches.

BRUNO NOEL: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: Among the campers is Bruno Noel, who's been stranded here for two weeks. Like many of the migrants stuck in Necocli, Noel left Haiti following a devastating 2010 earthquake and resettled in South America alone.

NOEL: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: (Speaking Spanish).

NOEL: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: (Speaking Spanish).

NOEL: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Speaking in broken Spanish, he describes working in the laundry room of a hotel in Brazil. But the pay was low, and he says there was a lot of discrimination against dark-skinned Haitians.

NOEL: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Now that Donald Trump has been replaced by President Biden and pandemic travel restrictions have been lifted, Noel thinks it will be easier to get into the U.S. So do thousands of other Haitians who had been living in South America and are now making their way north. Their progress has come to a sudden halt in Necocli.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

OTIS: This is the main pier in Necocli. From here, boats cross a small bay to a spot in the Darien jungle near Colombia's northern border with Panama. There are no roads connecting the two countries, so the hour-long boat ride is the only way migrants can continue their journey through the treacherous Darien Gap towards the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: But tickets are scarce, and as migrants clamor to board the boats, dock workers struggle to keep order.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: The problem is that Panama is allowing just 500 Haitians per day to enter the country from Colombia. As a result, only 500 migrants per day are allowed to board the boats in Necocli.

CESAR ZUNIGA: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: However, twice as many Haitians are arriving in Necocli every day, says Cesar Zuniga, a town official in charge of emergency management. Many must wait up to a month for a seat on the boats, and that has created a huge migrant bottleneck.

Colombian officials estimate that 19,000 Haitians are now camped out in Necocli. For many businesses, this influx has been a godsend. The migrants buy food, clothes and camping gear, helping merchants recover from the economic meltdown caused by COVID.

OSCAR HERNANDEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: Oscar Hernandez, who owns a perfume store, shows me his souvenir collection of gourds, a Haitian currency his customers have gifted him. He says Haitians account for 80% of his sales.

HERNANDEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: He says, "I thank God because everyone is benefiting from this." Well, not everyone. There's now a water shortage in Necocli, while businesses that depend on tourism are going broke. At her beachside fish restaurant, Felicia Ospino is frying sea bass for a few customers. Normally full at lunchtime, the place is nearly empty.

FELICIA OSPINO: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: She complains that the migrants and the growing piles of trash on the beach have scared away tourists. Some town officials predict that President Biden's efforts to deport newly arrived Haitians from the U.S. will halt the flow of migrants passing through Necocli. But for now, their numbers keep growing.

NOEL: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: In fact, there are so many that Bruno Noel, the migrant who has been stranded here for two weeks, laughs and says he sometimes feels like he's back in Haiti.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: That's John Otis in Necocli, Colombia. As you just heard, a lot of Haitians left their home country following a devastating earthquake in 2010, and then they resettled in Chile. One of them was professor Ivenet Dorsainvil, a language professor in Santiago, Chile.

IVENET DORSAINVIL: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: Dorsainvil told NPR that these days, you can feel people's absence in the capital. Plazas where Haitians used to play or debate politics or talk soccer, those places are empty. Haitians are leaving. And even though word of their treatment on the U.S. border has filtered back to Chile, Dorsainvil says hundreds continue to leave every single day.

DORSAINVIL: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: The thing is, he says, people often don't have any other option, right? And so he says they prefer to just try their luck elsewhere instead of staying in Chile and doing nothing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: Some of the factors driving Haitians north are new, but some are not. It all started with that 2010 earthquake that sent so many Haitians to Chile. And since then, life has become increasingly challenging.

GALLEGOS: I think it was kind of challenging in many senses.

CHANG: That's Chilean journalist Ignacio Gallegos, whom you had heard from earlier. Gallegos spoke to NPR's Ari Shapiro more about why so many Haitians are leaving Chile now.

GALLEGOS: The Haitian community is one of the first communities that Chile has received that don't speak Spanish, that don't have the language. So we were kind of used to getting a lot of migrants from Peru, from Venezuela, from Argentina, even. So the language barrier is one thing, and it's more difficult for them to find jobs. And they're more discriminated against because of their color of the skin as well. So the first couple of years had that cultural difficulty, but their lives were considerably easier in terms of finding a job or settling in than it is right now.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: So what changed? What's different right now that sent thousands of people going north?

GALLEGOS: Well, one big change is the migration policy by the government of Sebastian Pinera. Pinera's administration has been pushing for a tougher stance on migration, and the Venezuelans and Haitians have been the communities most affected by that. For instance, for the last couple of years, Haitians do need a visa to come in, which didn't happen before. They could just come in with their passport. But since 2018, that changed. And now they need a tourist visa to get in the country. And also the pandemic, how it's affected the Chilean economy in a way that many informal jobs have been closed, and that's been an impact as to why they would decide to leave the country, definitely.

SHAPIRO: Have you spoken to Haitians living in Chile about the reasons that they decided to leave?

GALLEGOS: Yeah. Well, I would say that since the pandemic - so many Haitians that I speak to do have jobs. They work at agriculture or informal jobs, even. Many have more than one job. And the pandemic kind of hit that because many small businesses, local businesses that hired the Haitian community had to close down. So they started laying people off. Also, it's the policy change that I was speaking to you before about.

SHAPIRO: In the last few weeks, as the U.S. has barred many Haitians from entering the country and even deported some people back to Haiti from the U.S.-Mexico border - you know, people who haven't lived in Haiti in years - has the attitude changed among Haitians in Chile? Are they still thinking of coming to the U.S.?

GALLEGOS: I think they are. And it's because in Chile, the attitude by the population itself has changed as well. Because immigration is becoming stronger and stronger, especially in the north border of Chile, many communities in the northern cities of Chile have - local communities - have been protesting against immigration and demanded stronger action by the government, by the local authorities. There's definitely a more anti-immigration spirit going around in Chile. And many of the migrant communities are very much affected by that, especially Haitians.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: That was journalist Ignacio Gallegos in Santiago. By the way, remember Ivenet Dorsainvil, the Haitian language professor in Santiago? Well, he told NPR that he's not sleeping much.

DORSAINVIL: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: He spends his nights talking about what can be done to help his fellow Haitians. For those who stay in Chile, Ivenet has written a dictionary, Spanish to Creole, with the hopes of helping Chileans and Haitians understand each other, not just the languages, he says, but hopefully one day the cultures, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: Earlier, you heard reporting from a migrant shelter in Mexico across the border from Del Rio, Texas. That came to us from Stephania Corpi reporting for Texas Public Radio.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ailsa Chang.

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