Former Haitian refugee urges fellow countrymen to come work in Tijuana, not cross border illegally

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TIJUANA (Border Report) — Five years ago, a wave of Haitian refugees, an estimated 20,000, arrived at the U.S-Mexico border in cities like Tijuana.

And today, Tijuana is still home to about 4,000 people from Haiti, according to census numbers. Most have received work visas and resident status.

Nenel is one of them.

Shortly after his arrival in Tijuana, he began working for a company called Sohnen, assembling and packaging Toshiba portable air conditioners.

“In all honesty, I came here with the dream to cross into the United States,” said Nenel. “After a while, it was just too dangerous to cross the border illegally. I decided to stay here and work, there were plenty of opportunities.”

Nenel, who is originally from Haiti, immigrated to Tijuana, Mexico five years ago. (Jorge Nieto/Special for Border Report)

According to the Maquiladora Industry Association, there are about 2,700 Haitian migrants now working in factories throughout Tijuana.

“They have integrated themselves into the workforce extremely well and have exceeded all expectations,” said Pedro Montejo Peterson, president of the Maquiladora Industry Association in Northern Baja California.

He said they are ready to welcome even more workers from Haiti.

“As long as we can, we will have opportunities for them,” he said.

Nenel believes his fellow countrymen should come to Tijuana and begin a new life.

“I’m happy in Mexico. They should all come here, there’s no need to cross the border,” said Nenel.

One thing that has upset Nenel is watching the images from Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of Haitians had been stranded at the border trying to enter the U.S. and where many have been expelled after crossing the river north of the border.

“I’m angry with what’s going on, it’s upsetting seeing U.S. officers treating people like that,” he said, referring to images of border agents on horseback charging at migrants.

Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas say all Haitian migrants from a camp under the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas had been relocated.

At one point, reports estimated 15,000 people, mostly from Haiti, were living at the camp.

Many others who crossed the border but were apprehended have been expelled. According to Mayorkas, more than 8,000 have returned to Mexico voluntarily.

Five years ago, Mexico allowed Haitian migrants to work and remain in Mexico.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has stated his country does want to help the latest wave of Haitian refugees but is calling on the United States to invest in the countries where people are fleeing poverty and violence.

“We don’t want Mexico to be a migrant camp. We want the underlying problem to be addressed,” said López Obrador.

As for Nenel, he says Mexico has allowed him to have a life.

“I have a job, I can pay the rent for my house, I feel like a Mexican citizen now,” he said.

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