Haitian family struggles to find a place to stay in Boston, as asylum-seekers sleep in a hospital lobby

CNN
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Fleeing what she called the “dire condition” of life in Haiti, Dieuvena came to the US, hoping “she can at least get on her feet, find a job, and take care of her family.”

For Dieuvena, 28, that family includes her husband Banel, 28, and their son Mateo Sebastien, 4. She also has a 10-year-old daughter who lives in the Dominican Republic with the child’s father.

As she only speaks Haitian Creole and limited Spanish, Dieuvena spoke with CNN through Dr. Geralde Gabeau, the executive director for the Immigrant Family Services Institute. She asked to be referred to only by her first name, fearing she might be penalized by the US immigration system.

Passing from Haiti through Central America, the family arrived at the US-Mexico border where they attended a CBP One appointment, the process through which US Customs and Border Protection grants humanitarian parole. The family of three attended the appointment as a group with five other Haitian asylum-seekers. One of the other asylum-seekers suggested they go to Florida – but they quickly realized no one knew anyone there. Fortunately, one of the other five knew someone in Boston.

After a quick call confirming the connection, the CBP One parole officer marked all eight asylum-seekers as bound for Boston, they said.

The family crossed the border and headed to San Antonio on April 24.

Dieuvena’s family is among thousands entering the US, as the government tries to process an increasing number of migrants.

Detention facilities along the US-Mexico border have surpassed capacity as a growing number of migrants cross into the United States leading up to the May 11 expiration of a Covid-era border restriction known as Title 42, according to a Department of Homeland Security official.

Officials have seen an uptick in migrants crossing the US-Mexico border in anticipation of the expiration of Title 42, which was invoked at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and has allowed border authorities to quickly expel certain migrants. There have been around 7,000 daily encounters on the US southern border in recent days, a number expected to rise in the coming weeks.

A senior Customs and Border Protection official told CNN the agency estimates “several thousand” migrants are waiting in northern Mexico to cross the border.

Reaching San Antonio, Dieuvena, Banel and Matéo Sebastien slept at the airport, waiting for a flight to Boston, during which time the 4-year-old boy began complaining of a bellyache. After some hours, they were finally able to fly to the Northeast after someone generously paid for their airfare, she said. While one member of their group knew someone in Boston, Dieuvena said her family has neither friends nor family in the city.

Landing in Boston at 6 a.m., the group of eight went their separate ways, with the family of three heading straight for Boston Medical Center, where dozens of migrants arriving in the city have slept overnight in the lobby. The family spent the entire day at the hospital, where the boy was treated, Dieuvena said.

When they left the hospital, the family was sent to a Massachusetts Housing and Community Development site but were told there wasn’t enough space for them. CNN has reached out to the agency for comment.

Turned away, they returned to the hospital, by which time it was already close to midnight. Here, they again discovered there was no place for them to stay.

Fortunately, she still had the phone number of the Boston-based asylum-seeker who had encouraged them to migrate to Boston from San Antonio. The connection, hearing of Matéo Sebastien’s sickness, suggested they come to a three-bedroom residence in the city, already serving as lodging for a few other families.

Still, the man said they could only stay for two days.

Arriving at the accommodation, Dieuvena said they found it to be overcrowded.

“Because they didn’t want her to go and be on the street with the baby,” Gabeau said of the family. “But there is no space where she lives, where she is right now, so, she has no choice (but) to find a place and she doesn’t know where.”

Waking in the morning, the family found the owner had gone off to work. Unfamiliar with the area, they were unable to return to the hospital. She said she’s been waiting to return because Matéo Sebastien was still sick.

“The person who gave her this little corner to sleep is not around,” Gabeau told CNN, “so she doesn’t know where to go, what to do because she doesn’t know the area. But the child is still sick.”

Today marks the family’s second and final night at the accommodation. Gabeau said they still haven’t secured housing for Sunday night. Dieuvena said if she doesn’t find anything by the end of the day Sunday, she doesn’t know what they’ll do.

Currently, her priority isn’t returning to the hospital despite Matéo Sebastien’s persisting bellyache but, rather, it’s finding a place where they can sleep off the streets. She would consider returning to the hospital if they can spend the night there, she said, but reemphasized they have neither family nor friends in the city, and don’t know the area.

Making matters more complicated, neither Dieuvena nor Banel is able to work given they both lack a work permit and must apply for one, they said.

Once asylum-seekers pass their CBP One application, Gabeau said, CBP tells individuals how long they have to make their case regarding why they should be allowed to remain in the US. Dieuvena and her family have been granted parole until 2026.

In the meantime, Dieuvena and Banel can apply for work authorization, Gabeau said. By Monday, Gabeau said the family will come to their offices at the Immigrant Family Services Institute where they’ll be assisted in filling out paperwork.

Between March and April alone, Gabeau said they’ve had more than 1,000 people come to their offices. Most of the time, depending on asylum-seekers’ occupations in Haiti, the paperwork goes through quickly. Some work as restaurant cooks, others in hospitality, and some are in construction, she said.

Dieuvena said in addition to her small family in Boston, she also has a 10-year-old daughter who currently lives in the Dominican Republic with the child’s father.

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