CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Adrin is trying to settle in to his third new city since 2016, when his wife was raped and mother was killed in Haiti. He will go anywhere but home.
"Why do they send us back to Haiti?" he said outside a cheap Mexican hotel blocks from the border with El Paso, Texas, where he was living with his wife and about 20 other Haitians last month. "We don't have anything there. There's no security. I need a solution to not be sent back to my country."
Haitians rejoiced when U.S. Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced last month an 18-month extension of protections for Haitians living in the United States, citing "serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic."
The reprieve benefits an estimated 100,000 people
who came after a devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti and are eligible for Temporary Protected Status, which gives a temporary haven to people fleeing countries struggling with civil strife or natural disasters.
Mayorkas noted that it doesn't apply to Haitians outside the U.S. and said those who enter the country may be flown home. To qualify, Haitians must have been in the United States on May 21.
The Biden administration has dismayed some pro-immigration allies by sharply increasing repatriation flights to Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital. The government chartered 14 flights in February and 10 in March, more than any other destination, before tapering off to six flights in April, according to Witness at the Border, an advocacy group that tracks U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement flights.
Removals have continued despite Haiti's political and humanitarian crises cited by U.S. officials in their decision to extend Temporary Protected Status. Kidnappings have become commonplace. UNICEF expects child malnutrition to double this year as an indirect consequence of the pandemic in a country where 1.1 million are already going hungry.
Adrin, who spoke on condition that his last name not be published to protect his wife's identity, is among legions of Haitians who fled the Caribbean nation sometime after the 2010 earthquake. Many initially escaped to South America. He went to Chile, while others went to Brazil.
As construction jobs for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro ended and Brazil descended into political turmoil, many Haitians crossed 10 countries by plane, boat, bus and foot to get to San Diego, where U.S. authorities let them in on humanitarian grounds. But then-President Barack Obama shifted course and began deporting Haitian arrivals in 2016. Many then started calling Mexico home.
Haitian restaurants opened in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, serving mangoes and mashed plantains. Factories that export to the U.S. recruited Haitians, who also wait tables and worship at congregations that have added services in Creole.
In recent months, some Haitians have moved from Tijuana to Ciudad Juarez, another large border city with jobs at export-driven factories. They're driven by job prospects, hopes of less racial discrimination and a temptation to cross what they perceive to be less-guarded stretches of border.
The shift was evident Feb. 3 when U.S. authorities expelled dozens of Haitians to Ciudad Juarez, an apparent violation of pandemic-related powers that deny a right to seek asylum. Under the public health rules, only people from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador can quickly be sent back to Mexico.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has acknowledged the Haitian expulsions but not explained why they were done.
"They are in transit," said Nicole Phillips, legal director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, an advocacy group. "It's very much a transitory populatton."