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Why Haitians are seeking asylum in the United States

Thousands of migrants are sheltering under a bridge in Del Rio. Asylum experts say there’s no better alternative for Haitians desperate for hope.

SAN ANTONIO — Thousands of Haitians migrants are sheltering under the international bridge in Del Rio Monday. 

More have passed through San Antonio on the way to host families who will care for the asylum-seekers as they move through the immigration process.

“Really, what we’re seeing at this very moment is kind of the culmination of years’ worth of movement,” said Katie Myers, the bus station outreach coordinator for the Interfaith Welcome Coalition.

Myers and other volunteers help migrants who pass through the Alamo city. The welcome coalition helps them with flight itineraries and provides food and water. She says she’s impressed with their spirit, despite the dire circumstances they’ve endured.

“The story of Haiti is very complex,” she added. “This has been a long time coming.”

Haiti was already among the world’s poorest countries before the 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 200,000 of its citizens. A year after the tremor, a million Haitians were still living in tents.

Corrupt government officials pocketed money that could’ve helped, St. Mary’s law professor Erica Schommer said.

“Eleven years later, the country has not recovered,” she continued.

After the quake, thousands left the island for South American countries. Brazil, for example, offered humanitarian visas and jobs.

Haitians helped construct the Olympic stadiums used for 2016 games in Rio. But those jobs were temporary, and the pandemic sunk the country’s economy years later.

“When economies are struggling and contracting, a lot of that informal work dries up,” Schommer said.

Haitian migrants soon sought help from the United States. Even before someone assassinated their president and another powerful earthquake shook the island, hundreds of Haitians sat on the San Antonio airport’s floors, waiting for planes to take them to their host families in the states.

“The recent events in Haiti don’t make Haiti any more of an attractive place to return to,” Myers said.

“People don’t leave everything they know and travel through very dangerous situations if there was a better alternative,” Schommer added.

Each expert says it’s hard to pinpoint one specific event that prompted an influx of asylum-seekers to ask for American help.

Policy changes may have contributed, as well, they say. Schommer contends that some Haitians believe they’ll be accepted at the border because the country’s migrants fall under an order that protects them from deportation.

But that protection only applies to migrants who are already inside the states. She says misinformation about the program may have encouraged some to make the dangerous trip.

Still, they seek stability.

“If they do not find that here, where do they find that?” Myers asked.

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