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Haitian migrants at U.S. border ‘could have been me’ says local choreographer

Eric Camping

In a swift string of developments, a migrant camp of tens of thousands, mostly Haitians seeking asylum, was disbanded at the U.S. - Mexico border last week. Many were deported back to Haiti. Others have been granted a temporary stay. 

While the camp cleared at the Del Rio border crossing is about 1,800 miles from Rochester, for Vitolio Jeune, a Haitian choreographer and principal dancer with Garth Fagan Dance, the unfolding events hit home.

 “When I look at the situation at the border, I'm thinking to myself, ‘that could have easily been me as well,’” Jeune said. “I could have been part of that group, if I’d had a different experience. Because when I left Haiti in 2005 to go to college, I left on a student visa. But if I wasn't fortunate enough... that could have easily been me.”  

Early last week, images of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing Haitian migrants along the Rio Grande went viral. The migrants were attempting to return to a camp near the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, where tens of thousands of migrants had gathered on the U.S. side of the border river, NPR’s Bill Chappell reported.

“Growing up in Haiti, when I used to look at America, it was always considered to us like a promised land, you know, a country of opportunity,” he said on Wednesday. “So it's very sad to see the situation at the border, because America is supposed to be, in my opinion, a welcoming country. Everybody deserves due process, if that makes sense, especially when they are seeking asylum.”

At its peak, the camp held more than 14,000 people. Many of the Haitian migrants have been expelled and flown back to Haiti, but many others who gathered in Del Rio were released into the United States, according to two U.S. officials the AP reported.

The humanitarian group UNICEF condemned the expulsions, saying last week that initial estimates show more than two out of three migrants expelled to Haiti are women and children, including newborns.

“Haiti is reeling from the triple tragedy of natural disasters, gang violence and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director, who said those sent back without adequate protection “find themselves even more vulnerable to violence, poverty and displacement — factors that drove them to migrate in the first place.”


Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.
Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.