Haitian Children and the Smugglers

How does a Haitian child pass the day? For many it’s the most demanding and dangerous pastime of any childhood. They are making their way to America on an exhaustive, agonizing 7000 mile trek from Chile to Peru to Colombia to Central America to Mexico and then ultimately and hopefully to the promised land of their dreams, maybe.

Haitian immigrants arrive by boat, to begin their overland journey through the Darien Gap into Panama and on towards the United States. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

They have been selected for this arduous trip because they are more likely to be let into the U.S. if they are alone. So a parent or some adult pays a smuggler $10,000 or more for each of them and off they go from a starting point in Chile where many Haitians now live in refuge from an unlivable Haiti. Other adults help them along the way, but it’s very hard going. Borrowed cars or dusty buses take them across the border to Peru and then to the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama where the ordeal begins in earnest.

They must traverse a 66 mile stretch of jungle, mountains and rivers that is not meant for human habitation. By foot and canoe they make their way with dangers all around. Rivers can sweep the unprepared away. Criminals lurk in the bush ready to pounce or rape given a chance. Dead bodies are a fixture of the landscape.

It’s a relief finally to reach Mexico where a bus takes them to an easier river to cross, the Rio Grande, and their goal, the U.S border. There they join thousands of other Haitians under the international bridge at Del Rio, Texas, to await their fate in enormously crowded conditions. It’s a roll of the dice. They may be out of luck and for all their efforts deported. If they stay, they may be united with a relative, assuming there is one. An alternative is foster care or lodging in one of the U.S. resettlement homes for a period of time. 

Photo by Raul Arboleda/AFP via Getty Images

The smugglers they have paid profit immensely, especially the Mexican drug cartels who virtually control the Mexican side of the border and increasingly the American as well. They have even got in the habit of shooting across the border since they get no response. A U.S. agent remarked plaintively, “Someone is going to get hurt.”  The cartels with superior numbers are not intimidated. 

One group of human smugglers, however, is now paying a price. Suspicious of all the children crossing the border to Peru, Chilean police with the help of Interpol has broken up the organization financing the exodus, Frontera Norte, and arrested nine members. The need of Haitians and the welcoming policies of the Biden Administration are key factors in the mass migration to the U.S. But equally important, though somewhat downplayed, is the crucial role of the smugglers who, indifferent to suffering, add vastly to the numbers reaching the border.

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