Haitian migrants are escaping desperate conditions and dangerous conditions in their home country to try to claim asylum in the United States, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Border Patrol data.
In fiscal year 2016, just over 6,000 people applied for asylum at the southern border. That number jumped to more than 14,000 people in fiscal year 2017. While the number of people applying for asylum didn’t immediately spike, it’s becoming increasingly common.
On November 26, the U.S. released 2,978 Haitians into the country from immigration detention facilities after being determined to not have a credible fear of return to their home country. The Border Patrol confirmed to CNN earlier this month that this was the largest release of Haitians in the agency’s history.
“The Department of Homeland Security continues to operate under an Executive Order that allows the government to release only undocumented immigrants with no criminal record and no threat to public safety into the U.S. in a controlled manner,” said Press Secretary Tyler Houlton. “The Department follows complex and updated guidance for these developments at the border and ICE has moved expeditiously to identify locations in facilities where this population can be safely housed.”
The Homeland Security’s decision to release Haitians rather than detain them has been particularly controversial, but at least some cases of Haitians seeking asylum in the United States illustrate the shifting dynamics of the migrant crisis.
Nearly 1.8 million people left Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, to escape what many argue was a dire situation. Survivors of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti say that in the months and years following the disaster, the United Nations and international organizations failed to restore power, food, and other basic needs.
This has left many Haitians to return to their communities and homes to find additional hardship.
As Haiti struggles to implement the political conditions necessary to get businesses operating again, young people are looking to the United States to provide a better life for themselves and their families.
Because the United States is the largest destination country for Haitians, most of them who make it north make their intentions known and wind up at the U.S. southern border.
About 80% of people who cross the Mexican border into the United States from Mexico are from the same country, meaning a “catch and release” policy applies. People who come from Mexico are processed for noncriminal actions and told to wait in the country until a space is available on the U.S. visa waiting list. The rest of them are released into the United States with a requirement to report periodically to immigration officials. They are not scheduled to be deported.
The Migration, from both U.S. and Mexican immigrants
Among all U.S. immigrants, 24% are from Mexico. The majority (68%) are from Central America, while fewer than 1% are from Haiti.
In Mexico, the largest proportion of immigrants (81%) is from the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo Leon. And more than half (55%) are from the Central American country of Guatemala.
In comparison, Haitians are less concentrated in one place: just 20% of undocumented immigrants from the country are from Mexico. But Haitians make up roughly a quarter of all Central American and Caribbean immigrants from Mexico.
Haitians tend to be younger than other immigrants
According to a Government Accountability Office report in January, 2,728 unaccompanied minors, from Haiti and elsewhere, were apprehended at the southern border in Fiscal Year 2016. More than 11,000 children under the age of 5 were apprehended during the same period. In FY 2017, there were 16,874 unaccompanied minors and 33,170 children under the age of 5 apprehended.
Of the students who enrolled in the K-12 public school system in the U.S. in 2012, 31% were born outside the country. Of those students, 49% of those born outside the country were born in Mexico; 29% were born in Haiti; and 19% were born in Dominican Republic.