By Lizbeth Diaz
MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) – Many Haitians who are heading for the U.S. border as thousands of their compatriots were cleared out of a frontier camp are giving thought to finding work in Mexico if measures to curb entry to the United States stay tough.
On Friday, the United States said a border camp between the cities of Del Rio in Texas and Ciudad Acuna in Mexico had been emptied of thousands of migrants, most of them Haitian. Some were flown out, while others stay in the United States for now.
For weeks, Haitians have been fleeing economic, political and social chaos in their Caribbean homeland, with many thousands still on the move in Central America and Mexico, in the hope of a better life in the United States.
Thousands have fanned out across northern Mexico in recent weeks, spurring concern among officials that mass crossings such as those seen in Ciudad Acuna could happen elsewhere.
In the city of Monterrey a few hundred kilometers to the southeast, about 2,000 Haitians have gathered, tallies by migrant shelters show.
Marck Lender, a 30-year-old Haitian who had traveled from Chile, said he would sit tight until he obtained the papers needed to legalize his stay.
“I’m afraid of migration authorities, I don’t want to be deported,” he said. “If I find work in Mexico, I’ll be here.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said nearly 30,000 migrants had been encountered in Del Rio in the past two weeks and none were left in the camp there by Friday.
More than 12,000 migrants will have a chance to make their case for asylum before U.S. immigration judges, while an estimated 8,000 voluntarily returned to Mexico, and 2,000 were expelled to Haiti. Others detained wait to learn their fate.
Roberson, a 42-year-old Haitian solderer who had traveled from Brazil, said he was fed up with paying money to “guides” and had just submitted an application for asylum in Mexico.
“We’ve been really badly treated on the whole journey, and they’ve charged us a lot to get here,” he said.
Roberson, who said he had a wife and children in Haiti, declined to give his full name. He said he wanted to get a job in Monterrey, or in the border cities of Tijuana or Mexicali.
Thousands more Haitians are moving through Central America, with others among an estimated 16,000 awaiting boats into the jungles of the Darien Gap in Panama, an often dangerous bottleneck on the journey north.
Underlining the dangers they face, Panamanian authorities said on Friday they had found a skeleton and nine bodies of suspected migrants who drowned or died from heat stroke alongside rivers in Darien’s region of Embera-Wounaan.
Haiti has been convulsed by natural disasters, gang violence and chronic political turmoil that came to a head in July with the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moise.
(Additional reporting by Elida Moreno in Panama City; Editing by Dave Graham and Clarence Fernandez)