Mexican officials are quietly helping thousands of Haitians make their way to the United States illegally, according to an internal Homeland Security document that details the route taken by the migrants, the thousands of dollars paid to human smugglers along the way and the sometimes complicit role of the neighboring governments of the U.S.
More than 6,000 Haitians arrived at the border in San Diego over the past year — a staggering eighteenfold increase over fiscal year 2015. Some 2,600 more were waiting in northern Mexico as of last week, and 3,500 others were not far behind, waiting in Panama to make the trip north, according to the documents, obtained by Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican.
The migrants are paying at least $2,350 to be smuggled from South America to the doorstep of the U.S., where many present themselves at the border and many demand asylum in an attempt to gain a foothold.
“Haitians have forged a dangerous and clandestine new path to get to the United States,” says the document, which lays out in detail the route and the prices paid along the way for smugglers, bus tickets and, where they can be obtained legally, transit documents.
Their trek begins in Brazil and traces a 7,100-mile route up the west coast of South America and Central America, crossing 11 countries and taking as long as four months.
Some countries are more welcoming than others, according to the document, which was reviewed by The Washington Times. Nicaragua is listed as being particularly vigilant about deporting the Haitian migrants if they are caught, so smugglers there charge $1,000.
While traveling through Central American countries, the Haitians will claim to be from Congo. They believe authorities in Central America aren’t likely to go through the hassle of deporting them to West Africa if they are caught, the Homeland Security Department said.
Smugglers charge $200 through Ecuador and $300 each through Guatemala and Colombia, the document says.
Mexico, though, is more accommodating to the migrants. It stops them at its southern border in Tapachula, processes them and — though they don’t have legal entry papers — “they receive a 20-day transit document” giving them enough time to get a bus across Mexico, arriving eventually in Tijuana, just south of San Diego.
Once in the United States, many of the Haitians claim asylum and fight deportation in cases that can drag on for years, guaranteeing the migrants a foothold in the country. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it received referrals to conduct credible fear screenings, the first part of an affirmative asylum claim, for 523 Haitians over the past year.
Other Haitians who are apprehended are put on a slow deportation track, giving them a chance to hide in the shadows along with other illegal immigrants. Southern Florida is a particularly attractive destination for Haitians, the document said.
Haitians are the latest nationality to surge into the United States, along with Central Americans enticed by the belief that lax enforcement policies under President Obama will enable them to stay, even if it means living in the shadows.
“The exponential increase in Haitian migrants showing up at the southern border is truly astonishing, and it shows one of the many consequences of President Obama’s immigration policy, which invites illegal entry and exploitation of the system,” said Joe Kasper, chief of staff for Mr. Hunter.
He said he was struck by Mexico’s “complicity” by granting Haitians just enough legal passage to reach the United States.
“Mexico doesn’t want them, but it’s entirely content with putting migrants — in this case Haitians — right on America’s doorstep,” he said.
The Mexican Embassy in Washington has not responded to repeated inquiries from The Times, dating back to last month, on its role in the Haitian surge.
As many as 75,000 Haitians fled to Brazil after the 2010 earthquake. About 50,000 remain, but the rest have left. During the past year, a steady stream has headed for the United States.
The Haitian Embassy in Washington promised to make someone available to discuss the situation but didn’t follow through.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that guards the borders and ports of entry, acknowledged “an uptick” in Haitians arriving without permission.
In fact, the numbers rose from 339 in fiscal year 2015 to 6,121 in 2016 — an increase of more than 1,800 percent.
“While CBP officials have made adjustments to port operations to accommodate this uptick in arriving individuals, CBP officials are used to dynamic changes at our local border crossings, including San Ysidro, the nation’s busiest border crossing, and are able to flex resources to accommodate those changes,” the agency said in a statement.
CBP says it processed the Haitians “on a case-by-case basis” and those that don’t have permission to be in the U.S. are sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the deportation agency.
As of Sept. 24, ICE had 619 Haitians in detention.
ICE had been moving slowly on deportations of Haitians under a humanitarian policy in place since the 2010 earthquake. But on Sept. 21, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that agents would resume rapid deportations of Haitians caught at the border.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the numbers show just how much the smuggling operations control illegal immigration. She said there are faster routes through Mexico and into the United States, but the fact that 90 percent of them are coming to San Diego is evidence that they have an arrangement, likely with the Sinaloa cartel.
By issuing transit permits, she said, Mexico was assisting the Haitians’ illegal migration and providing a financial boost to the very criminal cartels that Mexican officials say are threatening their society.
“I understand how this collusion or ambivalence to a criminal phenomenon works in Mexico, but I don’t understand why the Obama administration is letting it happen,” she said. “We could shut this down in a hurry simply by telling asylum seekers that they need to apply in one of the eight or nine safe countries that they passed through on the way. Otherwise, we are just asking to see another 160,000 or more applicants next year.”