Tim Ouillette is an associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University. In his upcoming documentary, Waylaid in Tijuana, he has chronicled the stories of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Brazil had two catastrophic collapses. First was the 2010 earthquake, which decimated Haitian migrants there. Again, in 2014, just as Brazil was about to host the FIFA World Cup, the economy collapsed in the country’s worst recession in 25 years.
In Tijuana, Mexico, there are around 3,000 Haitian migrants and Ouillette spent parts of the last year recording their stories about the difficult road that brought them there and interviewing the U.S. and Mexican border officials and policymakers to get their perspectives. Migrants who set out from Brazil travel north through the Amazon rainforest, arriving at the Darién Gap, which is the border between Panama and Colombia and considered one of the world’s most dangerous jungles. After navigating through 60 miles, they pay smugglers thousands of dollars to get through the closed borders of several Central American countries before reaching the border between the United States and Mexico. Those who survived and made it to the San Ysidro Port of Entry, just a few miles south of San Diego, as they had a chance at entering the U.S., before 2016. This is because, in September 2016, the Obama administration resumed deportation of migrants from the country in response to the growing number of Haitians at the border, who did not have legal permission to stay in the U.S. This meant that the majority of migrants who lacked the proper visas were turned away.
Ouillette teamed up with Katrina Burgess, an expert on Latin American politics at Tufts University and Aída Silva, a native of Tijuana and a local scholar who guided him through the city. Ouillette conducted 30 interviews with authorities at the border, activists, religious leaders, and migrants. He wants the audience to realise how complicated the situation is for many of the migrants, and that by shedding light on their stories, it will encourage empathy towards them.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman