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Haitians Denied Entry Into The U.S. May Have To Start New Lives In Mexico

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As many as 5,000 Haitians are massed on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Mexican officials. They were hoping to be allowed into the United States on humanitarian grounds. But late last year, the Obama administration shut the door on the Haitians. And it does not look like that's going to change with President Trump. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, many of the Haitians are now resigned to making new lives in Mexico.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hundreds of voices that go through the main hall at the Ambassadors of Jesus Evangelical Church located deep in a rugged, barren Canyon on the western edge of Tijuana. There are mattresses lining every wall, some three rows deep. Dozens more beds fill the balcony and the entire adjoining recreation hall now set aside for women and children. This is how life has been at the church for the past months, says Zaida Guillen. That's when Guillen and her husband opened their church doors as thousands of Haitians began streaming into the border city.

ZAIDA GUILLEN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We're going to stand by them," says Guillen. These days, more than 270 Haitians are living at her church. They can stay here as long as they need to, she says. About a dozen Haitians break into a prayer. It's been a long journey getting to Tijuana. All came from Brazil, where they had been given humanitarian visas after the 2010 earthquake. But conditions soured in Brazil last year and they began heading north to the U.S. With the number of new arrivals swelling at the border, President Obama ended a program that had let the Haitians enter the U.S. on humanitarian grounds.

Chances that President Trump will let the Haitians in once again are slim, greatly limiting the Haitians' options.

DARLENE JEROME: Darlene Jerome.

KAHN: Thirty-one-year-old Darlene Jerome left Brazil last year when both she and her boyfriend lost their jobs. The two arrived at the church a month ago.

JEROME: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: "My family keeps calling and asking when I'm going to send them money," she says. Jerome left her two children with her mother, and they need money for school. Last week, she had a date at the U.S. border office to petition for admittance. She skipped the appointment after hearing the U.S. had stepped up deportations back to Haiti. That's put Mexican officials in quite a bind.

RODULFO FIGUEROA PACHECO: The plan of staying and living in a shelter of charity is not a plan at all.

KAHN: Rodulfo Figueroa Pacheco is the head of the federal migration agency in Baja California State, where Tijuana's the largest city. Thirty private shelters are packed with Haitians here. Figueroa says Mexico has been doing the best it can to deal with this huge influx. Officials running the shelters dispute that and say the government should be doing more. Figueroa says it's time for the Haitians to decide what they want to do.

The Mexican government will let them stay, but he says they must leave the shelter soon and get proper legal papers to reside in the country.

FIGUEROA: I mean, there's no reason to expel them if they have nowhere else to go.

KAHN: Many are deciding to give it a go in Tijuana and have found work at construction sites and at the international factories that fill this border city. Christopher Fautine, who already speaks a little Spanish, is staying.

CHRISTOPHER FAUTINE: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: "I'd rather stay here in Mexico and see what future I can build. Going back to Haiti," he says, "is no future at all." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tijuana, Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.