When she started her three-month journey to the United States, Nounoune Jules had the assured gait of someone who knew where she was headed.
At thirty-seven, she was older than many of the Haitians traveling from Brazil to the United States, but she planned to go light. She, along with her husband and thirteen-year-old son, would wade through chest-deep water in the rivers of Panama and follow smugglers in the jungles of Nicaragua. After an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, the United States quietly allowed Haitians who arrived via the southern border to stay temporarily. Jules gambled on the promise that her family would be let in. In 2016, a year after Brazil entered the deepest recession in its history, they started heading north.
After New Year's Day in 2017, when Jules finally trudged down the streets of Tijuana, Mexico, she found that America had ended its policy. It had started deporting people to Haiti. Her family ended up in a shelter near the border fence, then moved into a tiny house with two Haitian men who were also out of luck.
By January 2018, an estimated 3,000 Haitians were living in the Mexican state of Baja California. The majority had moved to Brazil after Haiti's earthquake, the deadliest natural disaster recorded in the Western Hemisphere, destroyed the capital, Port-au-Prince. Brazil had granted them visas, partly to fill jobs ahead of the Olympics and the World Cup.
"My son hasn't been to school in a year," Jules tells me on the one-year anniversary of her departure from Brazil. She prepares fish and plantains after returning from the warehouse where she works. "When there are drunk people in the street, they could hit him. Every day people tell me, 'Don't let him go out.'"
Tijuana is a historic crossing point for immigrants, but residents there were not used to seeing black people on Constitution Avenue. Tensions were exacerbated by the United States' strange pact with the Mexican authorities: It required that each Haitian wait in Tijuana for an interview with American immigration officials, forcing the local shelters to rush for space. One thirty-year-old Haitian, Anel Verdieu, slept on a sidewalk for two months, praying that he, his wife, Marie Lovely Verdieu, and their five-year-old son would be among the small number of Haitians let in to America each day.
The United States did not deport Haitians previously because their country, after a string of crises, was considered unfit to receive deportees. The 2010 earthquake had left a death toll in Haiti of 300,000. Aid efforts there fumbled as more than $13 billion was mismanaged or never delivered. And United Nations peacekeepers accidentally started a cholera epidemic.
The United States, in addition to granting the short-term humanitarian parole, also allowed 60,000 Haitians who entered the country before the earthquake and in the first year following to stay on Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Even though later arrivals were not eligible for TPS, they were lucky, in a grim sense: Though parole technically allowed them to stay only up to...