'Hope is finished': Thousands of Haitians stranded in Tijuana

In the heart of downtown Tijuana, Mexico, there’s a taco stand that no longer serve tacos.

The Loncheria Dulce gave up making them about a month ago because there were so many Haitian migrants in the lunch line clamouring for something familiar, something that reminded them of home.

“They themselves asked me to make their food for them,” says owner Jose Luis as he simultaneously plates four dishes for the Haitians jostling for space at the lunch counter.

Lonchería Dulce-2

So many Haitians have come to Tijuana, Jose Luis and his wife at the Loncheria Dulce stopped selling tacos and started selling poul fri, a traditional Haitian dish. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

He hired one of the migrants to help him make dishes like poul fri (fried chicken), which he sells to the Haitians at a discount. But about an hour into lunch, the Loncheria Dulce has already run out. There’s never enough.

Every day, more Haitians arrive, famished. They’ve been on the road for three months to get here.

‘We crossed Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala to come here.’ - Joubert Alizaire, 26

“We crossed Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala to come here,” says 26-year-old Joubert Alizaire. 

He’s among the close to 50,000 Haitians who migrated to Brazil after the 2010 earthquake devastated parts of their country. Most of them went to work on Olympic construction. When the Olympics ended, so did the work. But the U.S. offered them a lifeline of sorts, announcing that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would stop deporting Haitians who were in the country illegally.

That’s what prompted many Haitians like Jean-Ludger Sainnoval to begin a tortuous cross-continental journey. He says he walked much of the way, over mountains, through rivers and jungle.

Chantale Joseph

Haitian Chantale Joseph arrived in Tijuana last month and is working at the Loncheria Dulce. She says she has an appointment soon with immigration officials and is confident she’ll be accepted as a refugee. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

“You never forget a journey like that,” Sainnoval says. “We had nothing to eat, no water, nothing to drink. We have friends that left Brazil but didn’t make it here. Some because it was too hard. Some because they died.”

U.S. resumes ‘removing’ Haitians

Close to 5,000 Haitians managed to make it all the way to Tijuana, at the Mexico-U.S. border. But then in September the U.S. reversed the policy and said it would resume “removing” Haitian nationals, claiming that conditions in Haiti had improved. Those who feared persecution back home could apply for asylum.

After making the long, difficult trek, Haitians now showing up at the border without proper documentation could be detained or deported. Many liken it to being invited to someone’s home, then getting arrested as soon as you enter. With Donald Trump in White House, getting into the U.S. — legally or illegally — will probably be even tougher, says René Jean-Baptiste.

Jean-Ludger Sainnoval

Jean-Ludger Sainnoval has been on the road from Brazil for months. The Mexico-U.S. border is in sight, but he can’t bear to take the final steps for fear of being deported. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

“The messages [my friends] send on social media saying that they’re being deported … I read them,” he says. “Many of us have spent so much money to get to this point, the money is gone. Life isn’t finished but hope is finished.”

Now, on almost every block in downtown Tijuana you can see Haitians, standing around or walking the streets with their belongings, sometimes with their children. In limbo.

Sainnoval travelled 11,000 kilometres to get to Tijuana, but he’s too afraid to walk the last 500 metres to the border, almost certain he’ll be sent back to Haiti. So what now?

He shakes his head. “I can’t  say, it’s hard. If you make a journey like this and then don’t succeed…?” 

He doesn’t even want to think about it, he says.

“It’s too hard.” 

So he’ll wait. And hope the U.S. will change its mind. Again.

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