‘It’s devastating to see it’: Central Texans share experiences of helping fellow Haitians coming from border


AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Friday, authorities at the border near Del Rio rounded up the final migrants in that encampment.

The Department of Homeland Security says the people, many of them women and children, were moved out in a variety of ways. Almost 2,000 were put on flights, and another 4,000 are being processed for a return to Haiti.

Thousands of others are working their way through immigration court as asylum seekers in the United States.

Austin food truck owner Nahika Hillery of Kreyòl Korner Caribbean Cuisine traveled to Houston to welcome fellow Haitians to America.

Nahika Hillery serves customer at Kreyòl Korner Caribbean Cuisine.
Nahika Hillery serves customer at Kreyòl Korner Caribbean Cuisine.

“It’s devastating to see it,” Hillery recalled about her volunteer work in Houston. “One thing I can say is I didn’t see anybody crying. Everyone just looked tired.”

As the daughter of two Haitian immigrants, for the next few weeks she will be volunteering to cook and help those landing in Texas.

For some Haitians, like Pflugerville City Council member Rudy Metayer, seeing Haitians get off the bus, images of people at the border and how they are treated aren’t surprising.

For him, it’s history repeating itself.

“It’s a frustrating topic, because I remember as a kid hearing that same conversation from my parents, and now we fast forward 40 years later, and it’s still happening,” Metayer said.

He’s calling for equal treatment and resources for all migrants.

“Nobody’s saying to let everybody in, what people are saying though, and this is the key point, treat every population that is trying to migrate into this country the same way,” Metayer said.

UT Professor Denise Gilman has worked in immigration law for more than 20 years. She says she has spent time with both Afghan and Haitian migrants and their experience once they arrive in the United States differs for one specific reason.

“Most Haitians that we’re talking about now are still in the process of seeking asylum in the United States, so they don’t have access to those benefits, whereas many Afghanis are coming into the country already having been recognized as refugees,” Gilman explained. “Haitians are being many times rejected right away, not even getting access to any kind of process in the United States or if they are allowed into the US, they are sent to a detention center where it’s extremely difficult for them to seek asylum.”

Right now, she and members of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law are helping Haitian women at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. She says they have a long journey ahead.

“Many are being recognized as valid asylum seekers, and then they get out of detention, and they go live with their families and pursue their claims in immigration court. Their asylum claims, that can take a very long time, because the courts are very backlogged. It can easily take years,” Gilman explained.

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