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“It’s a 50/50 gamble” worth taking, Haitian asylum seeker says about Chile-US journey

For years, Slovenia Dorisca, an aspiring nurse in Haiti, tried to earn a living in Santiago, Chile. For a while, she sold perfume and lotions in the street for a company that hired immigrants like her. Yet due to the language barrier — she didn’t speak Spanish — and low volume of customers, Dorisca didn’t earn enough to make ends meet. She was forced to make a life-altering decision.

“For more than two years in Chile, I couldn’t find any job,” said Dorisca, 29. “My husband’s paycheck was not enough to take care of our family. Despite all our efforts and many expenses, we have never received the appropriate documents to live freely in the country. That’s why we decided to leave.”

Unable to obtain the proper documentation necessary for a better job and worried about supporting their family, Dorisca and her husband decided to leave for the United States in 2019.

Dorisca carried her two-year-old daughter in a cloth wrap on her chest for more than 3,600 miles from Santiago to Tapachula, Mexico, while her husband helped their seven-year-old son keep pace. But in Tapachula, the family’s progress came to a halt when they ran out of money.

They ended up spending about one year in Mexico, working odd jobs. During that time Dorsica became pregnant again.

In early 2021, when she was eight months pregnant, the family once again headed north, traveling another 1,500 miles to the U.S. In March, the family crossed the border. One month later, Dorisca gave birth to her third child.

Now, from her new home in Queens, New York, she is feeling grateful to be among those allowed to stay in America.

“It’s a 50/50 gamble for everybody,” Dorisca said, with a resigned tone. “Some people are luckier than others. It just happened that we were part of the luckier group.”

A journey years in the making

Dorisca first left Arcahaie, Haiti, in 2017, six months after President Jovenel Moïse took office. At the time, Haiti was embroiled in controversy over the prolonged electoral crisis that marked Moise’s ascension and recovering from devastating damage wrought by Hurricane Matthew. According to a Human Rights Watch report, the country was facing a continuing humanitarian crisis, constant violations of human rights and lack of services to meet basic needs.

That year, more than 105,000 Haitians migrated to Chile, according to El Mostrador, a Chilean newspaper, a 138% increase from 2016, as word circulated about the country’s openness to Haitians. The LA Times reported that in 2012, fewer than 2,000 Haitians resided in Chile. By 2020, that number had ballooned “a hundredfold” to more than 182,000.

Dorisca was among the influx. Unable to graduate from her nursing program or find work, she and her husband, Desrosiers, an electrician, decided to leave Haiti for a better life in Chile. 

When they arrived, they obtained work visas and performed all types of jobs — from street vendor to construction worker — to take care of their family. When Dorisca lost her job as a vendor, the family struggled.   

“Chile is a very difficult country,” she said. “Once the card [temporary resident visa] they give you expires, your hands are tied. You can’t work, you can’t go to school, you can’t do anything. They make it difficult to renew it.”   

At one point, Dorisca even considered going back to Haiti.

“We were living in the shadows,” she said. “When we applied for permanent residency in Chile, they never responded to us. Because I was not working, I couldn’t pay taxes and without that evidence, you can’t get the permanent residence card.”

She and her husband decided to make the perilous journey to the U.S., knowing that many Haitians had successfully landed in the country and been granted Temporary Protected Status.

She knew about all the obstacles her family would have to overcome to get to the U.S. during the journey north. She heard about the people who lost their lives and those who were arrested and repatriated to Chile. Still, Dorsica decided to risk her life for a better future for her children.   

The family walked through at least 10 countries — Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. Sometimes, they rode busses.

Dorisca estimates they spent nearly $10,000 on the journey, including more than $6,000 to pay local guides who helped them navigate the dangerous terrain and cross borders. 

When she arrived in Tapachula, the government provided cash assistance for three months and her husband managed to find work under the table. The family saved enough money to buy bus tickets to the U.S. border, where they sought asylum.    

After being detained for one day by Border Patrol agents, they were released to Dorsica’s family in New York. 

These days, the family of five is living in a one-bedroom basement apartment. Dorsica has applied for TPS and is waiting to appear in immigration court next year. She’s also considering where in the U.S. they might settle if she is granted permanent status.

“I want my family to be safe and have what we need to live peacefully,” she said. “I hope things will get better.” 

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