Evens Delva crossed the Rio Grande with his wife and two daughters with dreams of starting a new life in Florida. Less than a week later, he and his family stepped onto the tarmac of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s sweltering, chaotic capital, with nothing but bitter memories and a feeling of rage bubbling to the surface.
The head of the Mexican Refugee Commission on the arrival of thousands of Haitians: “The situation has overwhelmed us”.
Delva, along with nearly 2,000 other Haitians, was deported this week to Haiti from the southern state of Texas, despite having lived in Chile for the past six years and having few connections to his home country. His youngest daughter, 4, does not have Haitian nationality, as she was born in Chile, and her Spanish is better than his Haitian Creole.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do, we have nowhere to stay and no one to call,” explains the 40-year-old, moments after getting off the plane in the sweltering Caribbean heat. “I just know this is the last place I want to be.”
It’s not hard to see why. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is mired in overlapping crises. Gasoline shortages and blackouts are a daily reality, while rival street gangs routinely kidnap for ransom and fight in the streets.
The situation worsened when Jovenel Moïse, the president, was assassinated in his home on July 7, triggering a political power struggle and further instability and street violence. The On August 14, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the poor southern peninsula, killing more than 2,200 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to deport thousands of Haitians in such circumstances has drawn worldwide condemnation and prompted the U.S. envoy to Haiti to resign in protest. Haiti is “a country where U.S. officials live confined to closed compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs that control daily life,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “Increased migration to our borders will only add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery,” he said.
Last week, the world was shocked by images of U.S. police on horseback charging desperate Haitian migrants near a 12,000-person encampment set up under the border bridge in Del Rio, Texas, and Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila. In fact, Delva was on his way to buy food and water for his family when the cavalry charge sent him and dozens of his compatriots running in disarray.
“They rounded us up like cattle and chained us up like criminals,” he explains, having spent the six-hour flight from San Antonio with his hands and legs tied. “They treated us like animals,” laments Maria, his wife. “We will never forget how we felt.
An Angolan deported to Haiti
The U.S. authorities were so clumsy in their deportation of the migrants that they also dragged along an Angolan who had never set foot in Haiti. “I told them I’m not Haitian,” says Belone Mpembele, as he emerges, stunned, from the terminal: “But they didn’t listen to me.”
Outside the airport, dozens of Haitian deportees waited anxiously and angrily for help. “Fuck Biden!” shouted one deportee as two motorcycle taxi drivers fought over customers. Plumes of white, foul-smelling smoke billowed from a pile of burning garbage.
Each deportee received about $50 in cash, as well as a hygiene kit with toilet paper, soap and a toothbrush, emblazoned with the USAID logo and the slogan: “A Gift from the American People”.
“This is my country and it doesn’t scare me, but it’s a country with no future, even if you want to work,” says Fanfan Clerveaux, who has been sleeping at a nearby cousin’s house since arriving a few days ago. “I don’t understand why they had to deport us like this.”
From Chile and Brazil
The vast majority of the deportees had been living in Chile and Brazil for several years after the 2010 earthquake, which devastated much of Port-au-Prince, killed more than 200,000 people and plunged Haiti into a spiral of instability from which it has never recovered.
Those who made it to South America tried to rebuild their lives, but when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out many middle- and working-class jobs in Latin America, they were plunged back into poverty. It was then that many Haitians decided to head for the United States. The long route north exposes them to bandits, smugglers and immigration officials who prey on migrants.
Perhaps the worst part of the journey is the dreaded Darien Pass, a lawless mountainous jungle area between Colombia and Panama. “Along the way you come across a lot of dead bodies, and the rivers swallow up a lot of people,” Delva says. “And then there are the thieves, who rob everyone who passes through.”
After the last plane of the day arrived, a young woman pushed her way through a crowd of taxi drivers and burst into tears when she saw her mother, from whom she was separated in Texas: “You’re here!”
Further back, a driver listened to the radio news and heard about another kidnapping in the capital, as the Delva family began to pile into a battered van.
“I don’t know if Biden knows what happened to us, but we were treated like objects,” Delva laments. As traumatic as this trip has been, he is very sure that his family’s future is not in Haiti: “We’ll stay for a month or so, and then we’ll try again.