Later this year, the federal administration will decide whether it'll extend protection from deportation to roughly 50,000 Haitians living in the U.S. On Monday, president Donald Trump extended the temporary protection status for another six months, but Haitians with that status—granted after the 2010 earthquake— are now set to be deported in January.
At the same time, a surge of Haitians who don't have the legal status have been entering the country anyway, through the U.S.-Mexico border. Since September, when former president Barack Obama resumed deportations of undocumented Haitians, those caught crossing through the southern border have been put on the fast-track removal process—and some of them ended up at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
In fact, Haitians now make up the second-largest nationality at the Northwest Detention Center. In May 2015, there was only one Haitian detainee, according to ICE country reports. Last month, there were 186—about 14 percent of the total number. (Mexican nationals are still the largest population, at 48 percent.)
And acting ICE field office director Bryan Wilcox told Seattle Met it's due to the rise of Haitians illegally passing through the U.S.-Mexico border. According to reports, many of them sought jobs in Brazil after the 2010 earthquake—but Brazil's economic recession led them to move further north, through the southern California border and as far north as Washington state.
In the fall, cracking down on illegal immigration through the Mexican border also left thousands of Haitians, who can't speak Spanish, stranded in Mexico. Undocumented Haitians can still apply for asylum in the U.S. once they enter—but those caught on the border will be detained in the meantime, and it can take several months to process.
Since this year, Wilcox said the biggest change was removal of an Obama-era policy that any undocumented immigrants who entered before January 1, 2014, without a criminal record were a low priority. ICE is not conducting sweeps, officials said, rather seeking specific criminal cases; but other undocumented people who are caught in the process can also be detained.
"We are not targeting these people," Wilcox said. "At the same time, if we encounter them, there is no longer a presumption of not taking enforcement action."