US border officials are struggling to find enough space to temporarily hold hundreds of Haitian immigrants who left Brazil, where they relocated after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, but have decided to move again amid recession and the Rio Olympics ending.
According to an internal US Customs and Border Protection email sent on Wednesday and seen by Reuters, an official in San Ysidro, California, reported 900 Haitians were waiting to cross from Tijuana in Mexico and asked Border Patrol to send Creole speakers to interpret interviews with migrants.
Apprehensions of Haitians in southern Mexico are also on the rise, where an estimated 500 arrived on Monday, indicating that the surge toward the United States could grow when those people travel north. Border officials need more space to hold Haitians in detention while they go through the process of being interviewed and potentially seeking asylum when they arrive in San Ysidro and Calexico, California, according to internal emails seen by Reuters.
In response to the official’s request for interpreters, another official said Border Patrol had three Creole-speaking agents and offered to send them to San Ysidro and Calexico.
A third official stationed in Calexico reported 100 Haitians were in custody on Friday when “the first big wave arrived,” but did not specify how many.
After presenting themselves to authorities and being temporarily detained, migrants can make a claim for asylum and be released until their scheduled court date.
Most of the Haitians have traveled from Brazil, where they moved to take advantage of a program that allowed them to work there after the earthquake, U.S. officials said. But with the slump in Brazil’s economy and the Aug. 5-21 Summer Olympics over, many have set their sights on the United States to find work.
State Department spokesman Joseph Crook said the agency is “concerned for the safety of all migrants throughout the region, including Haitian migrants seeking to journey northward through South and Central America and Mexico” and they continue to engage other governments on the issue.
US Department of Homeland Security Officials were criticized by Republican lawmakers on a House of Representatives panel on Wednesday for not doing enough to vet migrants and secure the border, a topic that has also played out in the campaign for the Nov. 8 presidential election. Republican Party candidate Donald Trump has said he wants to build a wall along the border with Mexico to stem illegal immigration.
The numbers of Haitians waiting to enter California this week represent a spike in a migration trend that began this fiscal year. Between October and July, 3,538 Haitian migrants arrived in the United States illegally, more than 3,000 of whom were entering through San Ysidro into San Diego, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data showed.
In fiscal year 2015, 712 Haitians attempted to enter the United States without proper documentation.
Pretending to be Congolese
Another phenomenon that U.S. border officials are dealing with is Haitian migrants turning themselves in and claiming to be Congolese. Mexico does not have the authority to deport migrants to the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Republic of the Congo as it does not have diplomatic ties with them, so its immigration authorities must release those people.
At a migrant detention center in Tapachula, Mexico, on Monday, U.S. and Mexican immigration authorities were inundated when 500 immigrants turned themselves in, claiming to be Congolese, according to the internal emails seen by Reuters.
Two officials, one at the U.S. Department of State and the other at the Department of Homeland Security told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that they are skeptical that the 500 were Congolese because so many Haitians have made that claim.
The Department of Homeland Security official said most, if not all, were likely to be Haitians claiming to be Congolese.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis said at the Wilson Center in Washington on Aug. 22 that around February, his country began seeing a rise in migrants claiming to be from West Africa and named Muhammad Ali.
“When we started providing them with services mostly aimed at Muslims and Africans…we realized the French they spoke was not West African French, it was Creole,” Solis said. “We then realized that most of them were coming from Haiti.”