Haitian Migrants at the US–Mexico Border

Last updated October 8, 2021

In September 2021, tens of thousands of migrants gathered under the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas seeking asylum or better living conditions in the United States. Many of these migrants were originally from Haiti but had been living in other countries prior to seeking entry to the United States. The Biden administration deported thousands of Haitian migrants from this makeshift camp using a provision from the 1944 Public Health Service Act, known as Title 42, which allows federal health officials to prevent people from entering the country during a public health emergency.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for the deportations since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees people the right to petition for asylum in other countries. In addition, conditions in Haiti are difficult and many of the Haitian migrants have been living outside of their country since the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The administration came under further scrutiny for the treatment of Haitian migrants after photos showed US Border Patrol agents advancing on migrants on horseback and appearing to use their reins as whips.

This Teaching Idea uses images and firsthand accounts of Haitian migrants to humanize the events happening at the US–Mexico border and give shape and nuance to the news. It is designed to help students think about the causes of migration and consider ethical questions around migration.

Note: This Teaching Idea helps students explore a story that is in the news now. In order to connect this current event to larger trends around migration, we recommend you combine this Teaching Idea with our other resources Why Do People Migrate? and What Is Our Obligation to Asylum Seekers? If you choose to pair this Teaching Idea with the additional resources, consider asking your students to reflect on how the story of Haitian migrants connects with, extends, or challenges their understanding of the broader issue of migration and the rights of refugees.

What follows are teacher-facing instructions for the activities. Find student-facing instructions in the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.

  1. Introduce Recent News about Haitian Migration to the United States

    Before introducing the topic of recent Haitian migration to the United States, it is important to explain to your students that Haitians have a long history of living in the United States. Many people of Haitian origin currently living in the United States are citizens or were granted temporary protected status, which allows them to live and work in the United States. This Teaching Idea examines only one example of Haitian migration.

    Use The Atlantic photo essay Photos: The Arduous Journey of the Haitian Migrants to introduce your students to recent events involving Haitian migrants at the US–Mexico border. Read the introductory paragraph with your students and then view the following images together: 14, 15, 18, 19, 22, 24, 32, 34.

    (Note: The Atlantic allows non-subscribers to access five free articles per month. If you have reached your monthly limit and cannot access this photo essay, share the NPR resource Photos: Haitian Migrants Who Were At The Border Share Their Search For A New Life with your students instead.)

    Ask your students to write a reflection in their journals on the information you shared and the images they saw using the Head, Heart, Conscience teaching strategy:

    • Head: What did you learn about recent Haitian migration from looking at these photos? How is this news story similar to other news stories you have heard about migration across the US–Mexico border? 
    • Heart: What emotions did looking at these photos raise for you? Which photo stood out to you the most and why?
    • Conscience: What questions or thoughts do you have about fairness, equity, or justice after looking at the images?

    Once students have finished writing, ask them to share one question or observation they wrote down.

  2. Reflect on a Story of Migration

    Play the Al Jazeera podcast episode The Journey of a Haitian Migrant from 1:00-5:19 for your students. (Note: You can choose to play a longer clip of the podcast, until 16:10, if you wish to listen to a description of the rest of Daniel’s journey, his detention in the United States, and his deportation to Haiti. The longer clip mentions sexual violence and contains a description of harsh conditions and violence in US detention facilities. It is important to preview materials to determine if they are appropriate for your students.)

    Then, place your students in small groups and ask them to reflect together drawing both on what they heard in the podcast and their initial Head, Heart, Conscience reflections:

    • Head: What are some of the factors that cause people to leave their homes and migrate to a new place?
    • Heart: What emotions did listening to this audio clip raise for you? What part of the clip stood out to you the most and why?
    • Conscience: What additional questions or thoughts do you have about fairness, equity, or justice after listening to this clip?

    Additional Resources: 

Extension: Explore the Historical Roots of Haitian Migration

Use Iceberg Diagrams to help students explore the root causes of Haitian migration to the United States. If this is your first time using an iceberg diagram with your students, begin by asking students to brainstorm what they know about icebergs. The main idea you want to establish is that what one sees above the water is only the tip of the iceberg; the larger foundation rests below the surface. 

Then, ask students to draw an iceberg on a piece of paper or in their journals, making sure that there is a tip, a water line, and a larger area below the surface. Their drawings should be large enough so that students can take notes within the iceberg. Alternatively, you can distribute the Iceberg Diagram handout. Students should write the following questions next to their iceberg diagrams:

  • By the top of the iceberg: What recent events may be contributing to Haitian migration and how?
  • Below the surface of the iceberg: What historical events may be contributing to Haitian migration and how?

Ask your students to read the Facing Today blog post Haiti in Historical Context and to use the information in the blog post to help them answer the questions. (Note: Depending on your students’ reading level, you can either ask them to read the entire piece or you can share bullet points summarizing the main ideas with your students.)

Students can share their diagrams in small groups or with the class.

Remote Learning Note: If you are teaching remotely, we recommend that you use our Teaching Strategies for Remote Learning and the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.

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