Unlike the United States, northern Mexico welcomes Haitians with open arms, though there are signs of strain

MONTERREY, Mexico – For now, this industrious and affluent city will be a perfect fit for Jean Rodmique and his family. Maybe, he said, forever.

Their original destination was Florida. But the planned trip, Rodmique said, became “too complicated” as news spread that the United States en masse cracked down on Haitians trying to cross the border at Del Rio in recent weeks.

Now “Monterrey feels great,” he said as his wife braided his hair and their 11-month-old baby slept outside the largest migrant shelter in northern Mexico.

More and more migrants are settling in the north of this country, either permanently or temporarily while waiting for things to cool down at the border so that they can attempt to enter the United States again. of so many immigrants is testing Mexico’s tolerance.

With immigration being a continuing contentious issue in the United States, it has fallen on Mexican border towns like Tijuana, Juarez, Matamoros, and now the large urban center Monterrey, about 120 miles from the Texas border, to step up and provide a refuge for the growing masses – the vast majority of newcomers nowadays Haitians – in search of a better life.

An 11-month-old baby sleeps outside Casa Indi, which serves as a dining room and shelter for migrants and people living on the streets. In the city of Monterrey, Mexico, Wednesday, September 29, 2021. (Emilio Espeje / Special Contributor)

Mexico has historically hosted refugees from countries like Spain, Chile, Argentina and Cuba. It has even recently hosted groups of Afghans.

But never before, said Father De Jesus Sanchez, so many migrants have arrived in a few days, so quickly and in large numbers, in the heart of the state of Nuevo Leon – Monterrey. The city is one of the richest in Latin America, home to the world’s best conglomerates and upscale neighborhoods, with cultural and economic ties to Texas, especially Dallas.

“We are all children of God,” said Father Felipe de Jesus Sanchez Gallegos and founder of Casa Indi, one of the largest refuges for migrants in northern Mexico. “We know the United States is a country of immigrants, even though they contradict each other. We have no choice but to help and show a little humanity, to respect their dignity. “

In the past two weeks, Casa Indi has more than quadrupled in size, serving more than 1,700 migrants. Many camp outside under tarpaulins. A thousand more are expected to arrive in the days to come.

Thousands more are heading in this direction, mainly Haitians who were on the way or returning from Ciudad Acuña, in front of Del Rio. Many said they rearranged their plans after learning that the Biden administration was deporting thousands of people to Haiti and seeing footage of border patrol agents on horseback preventing Haitian migrants from crossing the Rio Grande.

“When I saw these pictures in the newspapers, I felt America was just a bad dream,” said Marckendy Jeanine, 26, who was inside a bus station here debating whether to head to Mexico City, or maybe Querétaro city “because there are too many Haitians here in Monterrey, and it seems too many blacks in one place are scaring them away. people.

Marckendy Jeanine, 26, poses for a portrait inside the central bus station in Monterrey, Mexico on Wednesday, September 29, 2021.
Marckendy Jeanine, 26, poses for a portrait inside the central bus station in Monterrey, Mexico on Wednesday, September 29, 2021. (Emilio Espeje / Special Contributor)

Experts say migration is due to weak economies made worse by the global coronavirus pandemic, climate change, poverty, corrupt governments and growing xenophobia across the world.

Mexico plans to extend a helping hand to scores of refugees, most of whom migrated north from Chile and Brazil as their economies were under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic. They had emigrated there from Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that killed at least 200,000 people.

Like many of his compatriots, following the 2010 earthquake, these Haitians spent several years in Brazil before moving to Chile – hence their basic Spanish. Many of those interviewed here in Monterrey said they were fleeing what they called anti-immigrant attitudes and racism.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard appeared before the Senate this week and said the Mexican Refugee Aid Commission said at least 13,255 Haitians could claim asylum in that country.

“What will Mexico’s position be? Those who want refugee status will receive it, ”Ebrard told senators. Ebrard is expected to run in the 2024 presidential election.

How and when Haitians will be treated for asylum is unknown as COMAR is overwhelmed by the numbers, critics say. There were 90,000 asylum requests in the first nine months of this year, a 30% increase over the whole of 2019. Additionally, Mexico began deporting Haitians last week, sending back 71 in Haiti.

In Monterrey, the regiomontanos, as the natives are called, are adapting to newcomers from the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and now find themselves in a modern, urban metropolis.

The contrasting worlds are on display on the grounds of Casa Indi, which is next to the Church of Santa María Goretti. Outside, the refuge has been transformed into an open-air camp.

Tarpaulins are everywhere. Lines of laundry hang from a pedestrian bridge that spans one of the city’s busiest boulevards. One recent day, hundreds of Haitians gathered, sweating in a high temperature in the 90s and hitting flies, some annoyed at the sight of journalists digging into their lives.

View of a bridge where a makeshift camp for Haitian and Central American migrants is located in Monterrey, Mexico on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.
View of a bridge where a makeshift camp for Haitian and Central American migrants is located in Monterrey, Mexico on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Emilio Espeje / Special Contributor)

Toddlers sleep or cry for an ice cream at the sight of a street vendor. Some people have long lines to go to the bathroom, take a shower, or collect food. Many more are lining up to charge their cell phones with extension cords.

Nearby, young men – Haitians, Venezuelans and Central Americans – kicked a soccer ball, generating rare smiles.

On that day, an array of recent SUVs, trucks and other vehicles arrived thanks to donations. At least 100 arrive every day, according to the volunteers. In about 15 minutes, José Jaime Salinas, coordinator of Casa Indi, responds to six calls from residents asking about the needs of the camp.

“No need to be pampered,” he said to an interlocutor. “What about tacos, or fruit, nuts – something they can eat now?” “

A local man comes in and sits in front of Salinas, who asks him, “How are you, sir?” “

“I have been blessed by God and blessed to help each other,” he said, handing over a donation of 1,000 pesos, or about $ 100.

Two sisters, Catalina Marcos and Salome Marcos, learned about the shelter’s most urgent needs. Among them are water, canned food, baby food and cash donations.

“Our ancestors also needed a refuge,” says Catalina. “They came from Lebanon and found an opportunity here. “

“We are just paying forward,” added Salomé.

Outside, other donations arrived thanks to Roberta Clarion Rangel and her friend Erika Lankenau. Clarion led an organized effort through contacts on WhatsApp that filled three vehicles with goods for the migrant camp.

“Mexico is no longer a transit point,” Lankenau explained. “We are now a destination and we want migrants to feel less alone. I see them with their kids and I know things must be really bad for them to risk and sacrifice so much for their family.

“As Mexicans, we have long blamed the United States for the treatment of our compatriots,” added Clarion, pointing to their ancestors, largely Jews fleeing religious persecution in Spain. “Now it’s our turn to step up and help migrants in need. It is a humanitarian and human rights issue.

This has not gone unnoticed by Haitians, who are impressed by the show of generosity. Some confessed that their original intention was to cross Texas. But they reconsider because they see signs of a rare welcoming warmth.

Others remain cautious. Eddy Gedioncelet walked into a convenience store and took a look at the first headline of a remaining copy of El Norte, a major Monterrey newspaper, dated September 23. lead to a crisis.

The article was accompanied by a photo of Texas DPS vehicles lined up along the Rio Grande in Del Rio to form a “steel border” discouraging migrants from entering the United States. There was also a photo of Haitians at Casa Indi.

“That’s why I don’t talk to journalists,” Gedioncelet told a Haitian compatriot who was being interviewed by a journalist. “Soon Mexico will hate us too.”

Salinas, the coordinator of Casa Indi, understands how migrants feel.

Jose Jaime Salinas, the coordinator of the refuge.
Jose Jaime Salinas, the coordinator of the refuge. (Emilio Espeje / Special Contributor)

“Immigration is a volatile issue. Out of 10 calls, nine are really united and want to help ”the shelter, he declared. “One wants me to drive the Haitians out of here, to send them back where they come from.

“Tomorrow, I fear these numbers will tip over. We need to do our best to educate our community about tolerance, because this is just the beginning. “

De Jesus Sanchez is worried about the fate of so many Haitians who remain missing in a region long dominated by organized crime. He is worried about the dangers they face, some being forced into prostitution, pornography or the sale of organs.

After the show of force of Texas state soldiers and other officials along the Rio Grande in Del Rio, and after the Biden administration began immediately deporting thousands of Haitians who crossed there , around 8,000 migrants returned to Mexico, where officials urged them to complete asylum claims.

The priest is angry with the neighboring state of Texas and his own president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, for not speaking out or taking a stand for migrants in territories that once belonged to Mexico, including Texas and Arizona.

“Texas was once part of Mexico,” he said. “It’s a shame. They are an embarrassment. I wish AMLO had the pants to stand up to these territories that General Santa Ana sold for a ridiculous price.

Migrants, many from Haiti, are seen wading between the United States and Mexico on the Rio Grande on Tuesday, September 21, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas.
Migrants wait to board a bus north of Del Rio after being released by U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande and turned into asylum seekers on Wednesday, September 22, 2021 (Ro John Alviola / Special Contributor)
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