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One family’s terrifying journey from Haiti to Boston

<i>WBZ</i><br/>Yves Alfred's harrowing journey to Massachusetts lasted months.
Willingham, James
Yves Alfred's harrowing journey to Massachusetts lasted months.

By Louisa Moller

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    BOSTON (WBZ) — Yves Alfred’s harrowing journey to Massachusetts lasted months. The Haitian immigrant, his wife, and three children traveled from their native country to the Dominican Republic, then Ecuador, and Brazil before journeying through Central and South America to the Mexican border before ending up in Boston.

Part of the trip included a six-day walk through a forest. Yves was in charge of carrying his three-year-old son.

“Yes, the whole time was carrying him on his back,” Yves said through a translator.

They fled Haiti due to the gang violence and poverty that have enveloped the country.

“Because of the high level of insecurity in Haiti, things were not good at all for us, so it was not easy for us to make the decision but at the end, we made the decision to leave,” Yves said.

Now Yves and his family are living in the rectory of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain. They are one of the many families who are depending on the generosity and hard work of Massachusetts non-profits as the state’s emergency shelter system is at capacity.

Dr. Geralde Gabeau, executive director of the Immigrant Family Services institute, which runs the shelter at Bethel AME, knows that families like Yves are the lucky ones.

“From December 7 to last week we already had 2,000 new people registered with us. So, it’s not a simple affair. It’s everyday hundreds of people are coming to all of the sites,” Gabeau said.

In last several weeks, hundreds of migrants and their families slept in Logan Airport. Just this week, the state began the process of moving them to a newly opened shelter in Roxbury.

The factors behind the migrant surge are complex. Chiara St. Pierre, an immigration attorney for the International Institute of New England or IINE points to some recent changes to federal policies for asylum seekers.

She says there are three major policy changes that have contributed to the influx of migrants: the expiration of Title 42, a policy which turned immigrants away due to the COVID-19 emergency, more appointments on the CBP One App, an application that can be used by immigrants at the border to make an appointment to come in and be vetted to claim their right to asylum, and the so-called CHNV policy.

“Which is Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelans who are eligible to apply for travel authorization if they have a sponsor here in the U.S and it can admit up to 30,000 folks per month under those programs,” St. Pierre said. “The folks that we are seeing by and large have come either via a Biden parole program or through the app.”

Of the 2.5 million migrants who came to the U.S. through the southern border in 2023, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Data, it is unclear how many have landed in Massachusetts.

Governor Healey’s administration reported roughly 3,500 migrants in the state’s emergency shelter system in mid-December 2023. In fiscal year 2023, Immigration and Customs Enforcement made nearly 9,000 arrests in six New England states.

Nearly 4,000 non-citizens were granted asylum in Massachusetts in 2023, a 20% grant rate. And, according to an immigration tracking project by Syracuse University, Massachusetts had close to 18,000 asylum filings in 2022.

IINE Senior Vice President Xan Weber says many Haitian immigrants are drawn to Massachusetts by word of mouth.

“Massachusetts has the third largest Haitian diaspora in the country. So, we already have a sizeable and supportive strong community here. So, I think that’s one of the reasons why we are a destination state for many Haitians,” Weber said.

Yves took a flight from Brownsville, Texas to Boston. He says he has no ties here but came because he saw a Facebook post suggesting it was a good place to land.

Now, Yves says he is desperate to work.

“I am someone who likes to work hard, and I would love to have my driver’s license and my work authorization too,” Yves said. “I feel like I’m in pain. Like, my entire body is aching because I cannot go to work.”

President Joe Biden’s administration promised to expedite the processing time for work permits to 30 days. Yves’ family has been here for two months and is still waiting.

Dr. Gabeau says the crisis is dire and the time for all parties to work on solutions is right now.

“Given the magnitude of the crisis, we need much more. And especially to work with all of the churches, with all of the CEOs, all of the partners to take responsibility for this. Because right now it feels like the state does something or no one else does anything,” Gabeau said.

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