By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
America is hailed as a refuge for the poor, huddled, homeless masses yearning to breathe free, but thousands of African and Haitian immigrants being detained at the U.S.-Mexican border in Tijuana are experiencing a different reality.
“They cannot come here. They are being trickled in one by one, slowly over time, even those that are presenting themselves for asylum are having the same condition and situation,” said Attorney Nana Gyamfi , executive director of the Los Angeles-based Black Alliance for Just Immigration. The national advocacy organization fights for immigrant rights and racial justice with Blacks in America and Black immigrants.
“Folks who already don’t have funds, like who have already crossed in some cases 10 borders, folks just within the Americas who previously crossed borders on the continent, for example, and crossed an ocean, are now finding themselves after months of hitchhiking and walking and depending upon their wits and their ancestors and their God to be able to survive, are getting to the border thinking they’re going to come into the United States and finding themselves instead stuck without money in a country that has exhibited over and over again its anti-Blackness, unable to come in because of the U.S. policy and the changes with respect to the asylum policy,” Atty. Gyamfi told The Final Call.
Resources, such as housing, legal services, and Haitian-Creole and African language translation and interpretation are scarce, and Haitian and African refugees cry and plead for food, medical attention, and help with immigration processing, according to immigrants’ rights activists and attorneys who conducted fact-finding and humanitarian aid trips to the border.
People from the Caribbean make up the largest share of migrants entering the border outside of Central Americans and Mexican migrants, according to Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Nearly 7,000 Haitian immigrants are now residing in several border towns in Mexico, it reports.
“Our people are suffering both on the Southern Mexico and Central Mexico, but even right at the border,” said Atty. Gyamfi . About 100 Cameroonians stood in front of buses that were transporting people over to the U.S. side of the border, saying, “Hey! You are not taking Africans! You’re leaving Africans. You’re skipping us in line, and you are discriminating against us and causing us to have to stay on this Mexico side, which is a danger to us even longer,” Atty. Gyamfi told The Final Call.
Many of the Black immigrants traveled by foot, by bus, by swimming, and trekking through the mountains, fleeing earthquakeravaged Haiti and other war torn countries under political and economic strife, seeking better living conditions. Many were cared for and survived with the help of indigenous people who live in the mountains of Colombia, reported Attorney Joseph Makandal Champagne, Jr., Haitian representative for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. He said he participated in meetings Black Alliance for Just Immigration held in San Diego with Black immigrants and activists in 2017.
“Some of them died. Some of them made that trip while pregnant. Some of them gave birth throughout the journey, and also others when they arrived in the United States,” said Atty. Champagne, Jr.
He thanked Minister Farrakhan for sponsoring his trips where he also met with Africans and Haitians that migrated through Brazil and those held in San Diego detention centers. He represented some migrants free of charge.“The stories that I heard, some of them could not give an account of their experience without tears, and it’s so traumatic what they experienced personally and what they witnessed themselves,” stated Atty. Champagne, Jr.
“It was very humbling to hold some of those babies that actually were being carried while the mother was with child … but just to hold those babies and to see how good can come out of a very difficult situation and not knowing what those babies’ futures will hold, which we have the great potential for greatness, and to see the smile on their faces,” he said.
According to Mr. Champagne, Jr., African and Haitian migrants reported that a lot of non-governmental organizations and nonprofit organizations are focusing on indigenous immigrants, while Blacks go without assistance. Part of the problem is a language barrier, because most of the aid workers speak Spanish, but most of the Africans speak French and African dialects and most Haitians speak Creole and some French.
“It’s a rarity. We were able to go and assist them. We gave them some funds and spoke with them. We took some of their cases pro bono but we were limited in what we were able to do, but at least those who benefitted from us were very pleased to see that at last, there are some organizations like BAJI, who actually organized this whole event,” Atty. Champagne, Jr., told The Final Call.
“It was a very humbling experience and I pray that we can support BAJI, support the Nation of Islam in their outreach, not just to our brothers and sisters here in America, but also throughout the world, because that’s the kind of message that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad has brought to us from Master Fard Muhammad. And now, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is exemplifying it, is implementing those messages through his outreach beyond the borders of the so-called United States of America,” he continued.
He told of one Haitian who said he was given pills for tuberculosis on arrival but was never diagnosed with it in Haiti. The man didn’t have any sickness, Atty. Champagne, Jr., said, but detention medical staff kept giving him huge pills to take. “He started feeling sick with those pills, and he was pleading with us to try to do something,” he continued.
Black migrants were once able to cross the border, but now there’s a movement to keep them in shelters in Mexico, he said. On June 21, Haitian and African migrants protested deplorable living conditions at the Feria Mesoamericana park in Tapachula, Chiapas, Southern Mexico, which is being used as a shelter, according to media reports.
Images of a Haitian mother of two, pleading for help under a fence for her five-year-old son she said was dying, went viral. Her 14-month-old son crawled nearby. In the footage captured by Mexican news outlet El Universal, the woman said they had been there for 10 days and have been without food or water.
The desperation stems from immigration policies of the United States leaving people stuck in Mexico, and, migrants held in detention camps that are very similar or worse to what they’re experiencing at the border on the U.S. side, according to Atty. Gyamfi . She stated many are unable to be inside, so they’re outside encampments, subjected to the terror of police as well as drug cartels.
The situation is certainly dire, because for the Black migrants to be stuck on the Mexican side of the border means literally that they are depending on others for food and shelter. Their resilience and resistance, however, is definitely admirable, she stated.
“Folks are not being victims. Folks are definitely standing up, protesting, which they’re calling rioting, but protesting, speaking out, demanding rights. I mean they are standing in front of buses. They are shutting it down, and saying, ‘No! We are not going to be subjected to this,’ ” stated Atty. Gyamfi .
Further exacerbating the crisis, the Trump administration is moving forward with a nationwide immigration enforcement operation targeting migrant families, despite loud opposition from Democrats and questions over whether it’s the best use of resources given the crisis at the border.
It would pursue people with final deportation orders, including families whose immigration cases were fast-tracked by judges in 10 major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.The plan has sparked outrage and concern among immigrantrights advocates and lawmakers.
“Our communities have been in constant fear,” Estela Vara, a Chicago-area organizer said at a rally outside the city’s Immigration and Custom Enforcement offices where some activists chanted “Immigration Not Deportation!” The explosion in immigration to the United States from sub-Saharan Africa coincides with a steep drop in the migration flow across the Mediterranean to Europe after European countries and two main embarkation points–Turkey and Libya–decided to crack down.
From Jan. 1 to June 12, only 24,600 African and other migrants arrived in Europe by sea, compared to 99,600 over the same period in 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration. But spokesman Joel Millman doubts the migrant path for Africans has swung over from Europe to America.
Meanwhile, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration is collaborating with the Black Migrant Legal Support Network, which includes Haitian Bridge Alliance and Justice Warriors for Black Lives, and fundraising online with the International Society of Black Latinos to buy food and other resources for the suffering Black migrants. They are planning to visit the border on July 28.
“There are 7,000 Haitians alone … not just Tijuana but just along the border. I’m not talking about who’s in Central and Southern Mexico. Some have been there since 2015, some are new, and hundreds of folks are coming at least every week, so really it’s very difficult to give the numbers. We just know the numbers are in the thousands,” said Atty. Gyamfi .
After Black Alliance for Just Immigration began getting reports about border crises involving Haitian and African immigrants, advocates began making visits once a month in December 2018. Their efforts resulted in the 2018 report, “Black at the Border.”
The groups are calling for pressuring Congress by pushing back against foreign policies that cause people to leave their home countries, and pressuring Mexico to provide humanitarian aid to Black immigrants in the country.
“They’re all leaving their home country because of some mess that the United States is doing in their country,” Atty. Gyamfi stated.
Juanita Palacios-Sims, founder and executive director of the International Society of Black Latinos, highly anticipates her first trip to the Tijuana border in Mexico planned for July 28.
“As a humanitarian crisis, I think it’s deplorable, and we’re looking at it as humanitarian not so much as political,” the activist of Cuban and Colombian descent founded the organization to educate local and broader communities of the existence of Afro-Latinos and the influence the African Diaspora continues to have on Latin cultures and the world.
“We want to take personal packages to as many people as we can and food, rice and beans, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, whatever can be done which is what we will try to do for the day. It is an exploratory trip as well as taking goods, but we do plan to go back,” said Ms. Palacios-Sims.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)