Migrants, many from Haiti, wait to board a bus to Houston at a humanitarian center after they were released from United States Border Patrol upon crossing the Rio Grande and turning themselves in seeking asylum, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas.
As the U.S. orders the deportation of thousands of Haitian migrants crossing from Mexico into Texas, a local nonprofit is caring for those who already made it to Houston.
Organizers with the nonprofit group Houston Haitians United this week called for volunteers to cook Haitian food and translate, helping to fill the language and culture gap. The organization has been busy with relief efforts and recently worked with Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office to organize supply drives following the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti this summer.
HHU is also using its platform to speak out against immigration policies meant to remove recently arrived Haitians.
“Some people walked two months to come to the United States just to get deported back to Haiti and start back from square one,” said James Pierre, the chairman of HHU. “It’s heartbreaking because a lot of money, blood, sweat and tears have gone into trying to find a better life.”
As many as 3,000 more Haitian refugees are expected to pass through Houston on their way to other destinations in the country, according to the Houston Chronicle. Most or all of those who do will have come from Del Rio, where tens of thousands of migrants waited under the international bridge between Del Rio and Mexico.
Florida and northeast states like New York and New Jersey have historically been migration stops for the Haitian diaspora. There are more than 500,000 Haitians living in the U.S., nearly half of whom live in Florida.
Pierre is a Florida transplant who says there are thousands of Haitians in the Houston area alone, and his organization is a way of establishing a community here.
“When I moved to Houston 18 years ago, that wasn’t around you know?” he said. “The Haitians have been here since the 1970s. But the reason we created HHU was that they were here, people are moving here daily.”
Buses have been arriving at a Northwest Houston shelter facility run by the Mormon Church since Monday evening, with two to three busloads of around 65 people each, welcomed by HHU volunteers, organizers said.
Rolanda Charles, the secretary for the group, helped coordinate volunteers through social media, posting a call for people who speak Haitian Creole, and who can help whip up large pots of comfort food like chicken stew and Diri Kole — a Haitian style rice and bean dish. Charles also posted bus arrival schedules.
“We were there from 6:30 (p.m.) to almost three in the morning, handing out food, translating, connecting people…to their friends and families that are currently in the United States and helping them buy those bus tickets, or airline tickets to get them home,” Charles said.
By Thursday, the number of Haitian migrants at the Del Rio bridge had dwindled to about 4,000, according to reporting from the Associated Press. About 1,400 had been sent back to Haiti on 13 flights under the pandemic public health authority known as Title 42, while another 3,200 are in U.S. custody and being processed, with several thousand others returning to Mexico, according to the AP.
For those allowed to remain in the U.S. for at least the time being, Charles hoped more organizations would help them along on their journey — especially after seeing harrowing images at the border.
“Every single person, regardless of how they get to the border — whether they stay there or they need to go back — they need to be respected,” Charles said. “They need to be treated with respect and dignity and humanity. We are people at the end of the day. We’re not animals. We are human beings.”
Subscribe to Today in Houston
Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.