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Canada and Mexico Are Footing the Bill for the U.S.'s Unseen Haitian Refugee Crisis

Canada's Haitian newcomers are victims of a game of North American cross-border political ping-pong.
Haitian and African migrants seeking asylum in the United States line up outside a Mexican Migration office on October 3rd, 2016, in Tijuana, Mexico.

Haitian and African migrants seeking asylum in the United States line up outside a Mexican Migration office on October 3rd, 2016, in Tijuana, Mexico.

Washington's counterparts in Canada and Mexico are scrambling to cope with a sudden surge in Haitian refugees, after a Trump administration decree set tens of thousands of Haitians in the United States—many of whom are struggling to support entire communities back home—on the path to deportation.

Canadian authorities have resettled more than a thousand Haitians who had been living as refugees in the U.S. at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, the Canadian press reports. There are hundreds of Haitians arriving at Canadian borders each week, by some counts, from a total 58,700 refugees from multiple rounds of natural disaster and other turbulence at home who had been living in the U.S., according to a Department of Homeland Security count.

They're arriving there because it appears that, after nearly a decade for some who escaped the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, their time is up in the U.S.

In May, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly announced the U.S. would extend the Haitians' Temporary Protected Status for just six months more while the department made "necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States."

Kelly framed the end to the Haitians' welcome in the U.S. as a triumph of Washington-backed development efforts in Haiti. "Haiti has made progress across several fronts since the devastating earthquake in 2010, and I'm proud of the role the United States has played during this time in helping our Haitian friends," Kelly added, implying that Haiti had become the kind of place to which its refugees could return.

But the extension followed a personal plea from Haitian President Jovenel Moise that the DHS extend the TPS for at least 18 months, according to Haitian news site Haiti Sentinel. That request for more time for the refugees to live and work abroad and for Port-au-Prince to prepare for their return was flatly denied, despite Kelly's congratulatory words.

"Historically and in recent times, Haitians have not been welcome in the U.S."

Analysts of the country's affairs remain skeptical of what they interpret as Kelly's positive spin of the imminent deportations; they reject the premise that Haiti has recovered to a level necessary for the return of nearly 60,000 people who have become a necessary source of remittances for the beleaguered country. If Kelly accurately interpreted the Moise government, then Haiti's administration, too, is guilty of not considering the facts on the ground for the refugees, analysts say.

"The deportations are political Band-Aids that oversimplify what it means to repatriate Haitians. The fact that there are Haitian nationals currently in Haiti who continue to seek refuge outside of Haiti is a clear indication that the Moise administration is not speaking on behalf of Haiti's most vulnerable citizens," says Chantalle Verna, a Florida International University history and international relations professor whose work has focused on U.S. involvement with Haiti.

"Only by bringing ordinary citizens directly into official deliberations and taking such vantage points seriously can the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Haitian government begin to resolve the humanitarian and political crises that emerge cycle after cycle," Verna adds.

In the months that followed the Trump administration's decree, and amid fears of what continued to be an uncertain future for Haitian refugees—many of whom pride themselves on Haiti's status as the hard-fought first black republic, Canada began to see a remarkable rise in new arrivals intercepted at its borders. In June, Canadian law enforcement intercepted 884 people at its borders; in July, there were 3,135.

More recent data is still being tabulated, Canadian immigration authorities tell Pacific Standard, owing to the sheer number of new border interceptions being processed, but they say that Haitians now comprise the second largest group of Canadian asylum-seekers, behind Nigerians.

"Canada is an open and welcoming society because Canadians have confidence in our immigration system and have confidence that we are a country based on laws," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the press of the influx of Haitians last week, underlining that the refugees—not just from Haiti—must enter the country legally and go through the proper channels to seek asylum.

Arrival in Canada does not mean a secure future for Haitian refugees leaving the U.S., though. "There are no guarantees that an asylum seeker will be allowed to stay in Canada at the end of this process," Canadian Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship department spokeswoman Nancy Chan tells Pacific Standard. "For example, about half of all asylum claims made by Haitian nationals in 2016 were rejected, and the claimants were obligated to leave Canada."

In the U.S., Haitian communities are disintegrating. What had once been a robust Haitian community in San Diego has dwindling amid what is described as a great migration of Haitians to the North, according to a recent Los Angeles Times report.

"Canada traditionally has a more welcoming policy toward immigrants, in recent years, than the U.S.," explains Robert "Bob" Maguire, international affairs professor at The George Washington University and director of the university's Focus on Haiti Initiative, a program started to promote scholarship on the Caribbean nation in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. "Also, there are political forces in Canada that seek French-speaking immigrants, which include Haitians (even though many speak only French or Haitian Creole, not standard French). Under [President Donald] Trump, especially, the U.S. is not a welcoming place."

There is less attention paid to Haitians than the refugee crisis concentrated in Europe—at least outside of traditional Haitian American diasporic enclaves in New York and South Florida, Maguire explains, because of persistent racism in U.S. society.

"Historically and in recent times, Haitians as poor, black people who do not speak English and whose country has a reputation for disease have not been welcome in the U.S.," Maguire says. "when Haitians are given opportunities to use and develop their talents they do exceedingly well and make very positive contributions to the society. Given this reality, it is tragic that Haitians are punished and treated the way they are."

It appears that where the U.S. has opted to close its doors to those in need, its counterparts, perennially threatened with the so-called termination of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Twitter, continue to welcome the struggling, amid concerns of an absence in global leadership and a global standard for human rights with Trump at the helm of the free world.

Like Canada, Mexico is pushing to welcome Haitians barred by the U.S., in a refugee crisis much less exposed than the arrival of migrants escaping war and suffering that presently affects Europe.

In February, Pacific Standard visited migrant shelters in Tijuana, Mexico, swelling with thousands of Haitian newcomers, scrambling to enter the U.S. before Trump put into motion campaign-trail pledges to tighten borders with a "Great, Great Wall." With countless Haitians trickling in, it was unclear how Tijuana and other Mexican border towns—already struggling to grapple with issues of economic development—would cope with the new arrivals.

But so far, it has made great efforts to do so. In April, Tijuana city authorities told Pacific Standard that efforts were under way to integrate the newcomers into Mexican society. And many have since found employment; some say that, although their plans to arrive in the U.S. took them on a grueling journey from Brazil to the Mexican-U.S. border, often on foot, Tijuana or neighboring Mexican border town Mexicali are the last stops for them.

Tijuana industry is now calling on authorities to address a legal technicality preventing it from deducting Haitian workers' salaries from their taxes, as it does Mexican workers.

It appears that, in a world where the U.S. no longer bears the standard on the humane treatment of people all over the world, its neighbors are going to great lengths to fill that leadership vacuum. And in doing so, they may well be helping along the dawning of a post-American (or post-U.S., more specifically) era.