Published Friday, September 24, 2021 | 8:59 pm
Updated Friday, September 24, 2021 | 21 clock
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – You’re in luck, US officials said. “You will see your family.”
Authorities had announced numbers corresponding to raffle-like tickets issued to Haitians when they were arrested after crossing the border into Texas. As each number was called, another neglected immigrant stood up.
âEveryone was happy,â recalls Jhon Celestin. âBut I wasn’t happy. I saw that it was a lie. “
The price was a one-way trip back to where they so desperately wanted to escape. And so Celestin came on Wednesday’s last flight to Haiti to the capital Port-au-Prince, a city the 38-year-old left three years ago in search of a better-paying job to support his family.
He is one of around 2,000 migrants who the USA deported this week with more than 17 flights to Haiti, with more planned in the coming days. Staying in Haiti is not an option for many. Like Celestin, they plan to leave their country as soon as possible.
It had stopped drizzling when Celestin left the airport and stepped onto the dust-and-smoke-choked streets, a bag in one hand and his two-year-old daughter in the other.
Chloe, born in Chile, was calmly looking around her new neighborhood when Celestin and his wife asked to borrow a phone to call a taxi. It would be more expensive, but they didn’t want their toddler to ride a motorcycle – a common means of getting around town, where vehicles have to drive around smoldering garbage dumps, heavy traffic, and the occasional burning barricades.
After a 35-minute drive, they arrived at a house whose basement they would share with a cousin who had been expelled from the United States the day before. The house is a few blocks from where 15 people were killed in a rampage in June, including a journalist and a political activist. A police officer was among the defendants.
“That’s not how I imagined it here,” said Celestin’s wife, 26-year-old Delta de LeÃ³n, who was born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican father and a Haitian mother. “But here I am, although I hope I can go soon, because the only thing I never wanted my daughter to do is that she grow up here.”
Haiti has more than 11 million people; about 60% earn less than $ 2 a day. A cornerstone of its economy is Haitian overseas money – $ 3.8 billion a year, or 35% of the country’s GDP.
The Haiti that migrants are returning to is more violent, impoverished and politically unstable than the one they left. It is struggling to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel MoÃ¯se and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people and destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes in southern Haiti in August. Thousands of people live in shabby shelters after their homes were razed to the ground in recent months as a result of rampant gang violence.
Celestin and his wife don’t want to stay long.
On his first day in Haiti, Celestin spent several hours sprawled on the queen-size bed he shared with his wife and daughter. He was on the phone with his sister, who lives in Chile, and friends elsewhere when he was planning his family’s departure. He only paused to get his hair cut and figure out how to pick up a money transfer, as he had previously mailed all of his identification documents to his family in Miami in the hopes that he would be reunited with them this month.
The new plan is to return to Chile, where he built houses as a construction worker after obtaining a visa. As the pandemic dried up jobs and froze the economy, the family decided to try their luck at the U.S.-Mexico border, traveling on foot, bus, and boat for about a month at night.
“What hurt and frustrated me the most was the dead I saw,” said de LeÃ³n.
The toll of that trip, the conditions at the border, and the recent deportation flight with a sick child – Chloe had gotten an incessant cough while the family camped under a Texas bridge – meant that de LeÃ³n didn’t sleep much on her first night in Haiti.
“I cried because I don’t want to be here,” she said.
De LeÃ³n intends to cross the border into the Dominican Republic with her daughter as soon as possible to reunite with her father, sister and brother while her husband flies to Chile.
But initially the family planned to go to the coastal town of Jacmel in southern Haiti to visit relatives, a risky trip as it was crossing gang-controlled territory. Buses often form convoys for security reasons and sometimes pay gangs for safe passage. The violence in this neighborhood has reached such levels that MSF recently closed their clinic there after 15 years.
Breakfast that first morning in Haiti consisted of spaghetti and pieces of avocado. Usually Chloe has milk and fruit, but de LeÃ³n said she was waiting for a money transfer to buy some basic groceries. She was worried about her daughter’s health and about her future.
“The future I wish for them is a better life, a more comfortable life that a poor person can give to their children,” she said. âIf this life has to be in the United States, so be it. If it has to be in Chile, let it be in Chile. But let it be a better life. “
On their second day in Haiti, the couple decided to take the risk and see Jacmel. A minibus was waiting when Celestin and de LeÃ³n packed their bags and put on new shoes they had bought that morning: black and white sneakers for him, white sandals for her.
“Well pale!” Celestin’s cousin called to them in Creole – “We’re talking!” And the couple boarded the minibus and placed their little girl between them as they made their way onto the treacherous road to Jacmel.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.