Little Haiti: The data behind Haitians taking refuge in Tijuana in the age of Trump

A couple weeks ago, my colleage Baur Safi posted an article about a recent phenomenon of Haitians who had sought asylum in the US and received Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Despite having legal status and the ability to work in the US, many in the Haitian community were fleeing to Canada and overwhelming the humanitarian shelters there. Baur obtained some data from the Canadian government which illuminated this trend.

I sought to see if a similar phenomenon was taking place on the southern border. I accessed publicly available data from the government of Mexican Secretariat of Governance — Unit of Migration Policy. These monthly statistical bulletins contain a wealth of data on migration flows according to nationality, destination, type of status provided, etc.

I wanted to know about Haitians seeking status similar to TPS in the states, so I looked specifically at the number of Visitors for Humanitarian Reasons Permits (Tarjetas de Visitantes por Razones Humanitarias) and utilized Tables 2.10 (Tarjetas de Visitantes por Razones Humanitarias (TVRH) emitidas, según entidad federativa) and 2.10.1 (Tarjetas de Visitantes por Razones Humanitarias (TVRH) emitidas, según continente y país de nacionalidad) for years 2015, 2016, and 2017.

This first graph shows the total number of TVRH permits provided per month.

The first thing you notice almost immediately is that at the national level, the number of permits provided skyrockets between March and May of 2017 to numbers not previously seen.

A second visualization of the data provides an understanding of which regions of Mexico are providing these permits:

You shoud be able to tell that the massive spike in permits issued from March to June was driven almost entirely by Baja California, the state in Mexico which borders California and contains the border city of Tijuana.

The last chart shows the data by the nationality of the asylum seeker:

I think this last visualization speaks for itself.

With these three visualizations of the publicly available data, we can come to three conclusions:

  1. There was a massive increase in the number of TVRH permits provided by the Mexican government in the spring/summer of 2017.
  2. Almost all of these permits were issued in Baja California, the state bordering the US state of California which historically issued few TVRH permits or none at all.
  3. This increase was driven entirely by those of Haitian nationality.

My original purpose in looking at these data was to see if it mirrored the trend that Baur found looking into Haitians fleeing the US for Canada. It is important to note that the trend here takes place earlier than the trend of Haitians leaving for Canada by a few months. So it could be a separate phenomenon at work. However, it seems unlikely that these two trends, even if they represent separate phenomena, are entirely unrelated.

There is some, but limited information out there to understand these data better. Some articles, such as this one, tell the story of Haitian people who moved to Mexico in an effort to gain entry to the US to access the TPS program who are deciding to settle in Mexico instead. In a subsequent post I will write about what information we have to contextualize and understand these data, and tell the story of this most recent movement in the Haitian diaspora.