Haitian migrants put Joe Biden’s immigration policies to test in Texas


Marie Martine and Briyanne Jeanniton fled their native Haiti, traveled for years on parallel journeys across two continents before landing at the Texas border.

Their paths never crossed but, in March, they each made what they hoped would be their last leg: They surrendered to Border Patrol agents, one in El Paso, the other in Del Rio.

They met remarkably different fates.

Agents in Del Rio gave Jeanniton, 23, a “credible fear” screening that put her on a legal path to seek asylum — she acknowledged she was afraid to return to Haiti — and they released her to travel freely to a friend’s apartment in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Agents in El Paso loaded Martine, 49, and husband Fanfan Jean into a van, dropped them at a downtown bridge to Juárez and told them to return to Mexico.

“I feel free,” Jeanniton said in a video call, using Spanish she acquired during time spent in Chile and traversing South and Central America, to Mexico. “I don’t know if you can understand me. Ten or 12 countries behind me! And when you arrive, you feel free. Like when a person was a slave and becomes free, because the journey is over.”

Briyanne Jeanniton, a Haitian migrant lived in Tapachula, Chiapas before traveling to Monterrey, Mexico, and eventually crossing into the U.S. and making her way to Florida in March of 2021. In the photo, Jeanniton is photographed in Chiapas in February of 2020.

Back in Juárez, in a hastily rented room, Martine said her experience at the border was “mal, mal, mal” — very bad.

The Border Patrol “didn’t ask me about Haiti,” she said. “Haiti is very dangerous. If I go to Haiti, I could be killed. But they didn’t ask me about Haiti. They only told me, ‘You are going back to Mexico.'”

The U.S. asylum system ― whose dismantling by the Trump administration began with an Obama policy blocking Haitian asylum seekers in 2016 ― remains in disarray. As a result, asylum seekers are making strategic decisions about where to present their claims, and unequal encounters are playing out in Texas border cities from El Paso to Brownsville. 

More on the border:Migrant encounters up 71% in March as Biden administration grapples with border

Border where chances are hit or miss

The White House has repeatedly said that the border is closed and that pandemic protocols that allow Border Patrol to quickly return migrants to Mexico — known as Title 42 — remain in effect.

A group of Haitians crosses into the Rio Grande to enter El Paso, Texas on April 2. 2021.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection public affairs spokesperson said border agents evaluate a migrant’s circumstances on a case-by-case basis, taking into account U.S. legal requirements, COVID-19 protocols, changes in Mexican law, U.S. holding capacity and and the health of the individual.

‘All I want is a tranquil life’: Asylum claims skyrocket in Mexico as Haitians flee to U.S. border

“The border is not open, and the vast majority of people are being returned under Title 42,” the spokesman said in an emailed response to questions.

Separately, Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector confirmed in an email that Haitian citizens have been returned to Mexico under Title 42. 

Like Jeanniton and Martine, Haitians who have been waiting years in Mexico for an opportunity to seek asylum in the U.S. are now testing the Biden administration and a border where their chances are — evidently — hit or miss.

Marie Martine and her husband Fanfan Jean discuss their next options after a failed attempt to be allowed to remain in the U.S. The couple have lived in Mexico for the last five years in Tijuana.

“They’re being left with a risky decision on the off chance they will go the right (border) sector at the right time, and we have no explanation for who gets in and why,” said Linda Rivas, executive director of the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso. “It is extremely arbitrary. It highlights that we don’t have a functional asylum system.”

Mark Morgan, who served as acting CBP commissioner under Trump, called the Biden administration’s uneven application of Title 42 along the border “absurd.” 

“Any time there is a policy or authority shift, it’s exploited,” he said. “Either the smugglers are going to exploit that or the migrants are going to exploit that. Title 42 is not being applied evenly across the border. It shouldn’t depend on where you enter the Southwest border illegally what happens to you.”

Jeanniton’s calculation paid off. She left Border Patrol custody with a negative COVID-19 test and paperwork in hand requiring she meet with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If not a guarantee that she could stay, she may have a chance to make her case.

Sent back to Mexico empty-handed, Martine was disappointed but undeterred. 

Marie Martine and her husband Fanfan Jean, walk around downtown Ciudad Juarez in search of a belt and shoe laces. U.S. Customs and Border Protection had taken the shoelaces from the migrants when they attempted to enter the U.S. without documentation.

“I am thinking about checking another border,” she said, employing a mix of Spanish and Portuguese acquired during long stints in Venezuela and Brazil and Mexico. “I’m going to wait a while to see how things go. I’ve been waiting here so long. I want to cross.”

A Guatemalan father brought his 10-year-old daughter to the U.S.-Mexico border.:He learned to regret it.



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