To appear in International
Migration Review, Spring 1986
Flight into Despair
'A Profile of Recent Haitian Refugees in South Florida
Florida International University
The Johns Hopkins University
*The data on which this paper is based were collected with the support of grant
ISES-8215567 from the National Science Foundation. The statistical analysis was
conducted at the Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies, University of California San Diego
where Portes was a research fellow during 1984-85.
My name is Jean-Pierre and I was born in the north of Haiti in a
place called Limonede on July 5, 1955. I was an agricultural advisor in
Haiti. In 1980, I helped organize a union of farmers and the Ton Ton
Macoutes came to arrest me, so I had to come to the U.S. I knew someone
in Cap Haitien who organized trips to the U.S. My family borrowed the
money and I came in January of 1981. The U.S. authorities met our boat and
took us all off to prison camp where we stayed for more than a year
before we Were let out. As soon as we were let out of prison I came to
stay here with my cousins in Miami. I began looking for work, but had a
very hard time. Everywhere I go they say, "No work, no work." Sometimes
they say, "You Haitian go away. I don't want no AIDS here." I haven't
been sick since being here. I don't have no AIDS, but still they are
prejudiced against us Haitians. One time I got a job and worked for two
weeks. I kept asking and asking for my money, but the boss never paid me.
He still never pay me. I took some English classes and have learned a
little bit, but it's still hard to find a job. Fortunately, I have my
cousins to help me out. They let me stay here and eat here. One cousin
finally found me a job at the same hotel where he works. Now I, too, can
contribute to the house.. I also try to send money back home to Haiti. My
job only pays me about S500 a month and sometimes there's nothing left
over. But I'm still glad I have a job. In spite of all the toubles we
Haitians have had, I want to stay here. I can't go back to Haiti. I want
to stay and make a better life here in the U.S.
No single individual can reflect the diversity of over 25.000 Haitians who have
migrated to Florida in the past five years. Nevertheless, Jean-Pierre's story captures
the essence of many of these refugee migrants' experiences. The data to b'e presented
in this paper reveal a population from diverse backgrounds and with highly varied
experiences in the U.S. But the dominant theme is one of struggle, especially economic
struggle, to find work, to keep work, and to make enough money to survive. This paper
focuses on the actual conditions of recent Haitian refugees in South Florida and the
efforts that they have made to adapt to those conditions.
Based on a random sample survey of recently arrived Haitians, participant
observation, and intensive interviewing, the paper examines the following topics:
a) individual background characteristics of Haitian immigrants; b) their arrival and early
re-settlement experiences; c) their education, knowledge of English and information about
the United States; d) current employment status and occupation: e) income and use of
public assistance: f) predictors of employment, occupation, and income; and g) beliefs and
orientations. These results are presented after discussion of the methodology of the
study and the context of out-migration from Haiti.
II. Methodology .
The data for this analysis come from a sample of 499 adult Haitians who arrived in
the United States after January of 1980. They were interviewed in the late fall of
1983 and spring of 1984. The survey was conducted on the basis of stratified multi-
stage area samples. Strata in this survey are localities in the three adjacent counties
known to contain the majority of Haitians in the region: the Little Haiti sections of
Miami and Port Lauderdale and the agricultural town of Belle Glade.
Within each stratum, census tracts of high Haitian concentration were delimited and
blocks within them were designated as primary sampling units. Then, within each
delimited area, blocks were assigned unique three digit numbers and selected through a
simple random sample procedure. Within blocks, the probability of selection was fixed at
one, making all eligible households in selected blocks fall into the sample. The universe
was defined as households containing at least one eligible respondent, that is a Haitian
immigrant between the ages of 18 and 60 who arrived in the United States after January
1980. Within each selected unit, an eligible individual was interviewed and was asked to
furnish information about himself or herself and about other household members.
The survey instrument was first constructed in Spanish and then translated and
pretested in Haitian Creole. It was administered by trained Creole-French-Engligh
trilingual interviewers. Interviews lasted approximately one hour each and we
encountered virtually no refusals. Interviewers paid special attention to assuring
respondents that their answers would remain confidential and that the research was in
no way associated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Data from these
surveys present the first, and until now, the only statistically representative information
of recent Haitian refugees in their principal areas of concentration in South Florida.
The vast majority (92%) of respondents arrived in the United States in 1980 or 1981 and,
hence, had been in the country for at least two years at the time of the survey.1 The
distribution of this sample by strata and sex of respondent is presented in Table 1.
table I about here
III. Migration from Haiti
International labor migration has been a constant feature of most Caribbean
societies since the arrival of European colonialists nearly 500 years ago (Perusek, 1984).
Within this context, Haitian migration, however, is distinct. Labor migration did not
characterize Haitian society for the period between the onset of its Revolution in the
late eighteenth century until the second quarter of the twentieth century when U.S.
economic expansion created large scale, U.S. controlled sugar plantations in the
neighboring countries of the Dominican Republic and Cuba (Locher, 1984). Since then
there has been a recurrent rural to rural flow from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and-
Cuba, interrupted only by the Dominican massacre of Haitians in the 1930s instigated by
dictator Rafael Trujillo and by the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
The U.S. did not become a favored destination of Haitian immigrants until Francois,
"Papa Doc" Duvalier assumed power in 1958.2 Since then, citizens from all levels of
Haitian society have fled their homeland. Their primary destination has been New York.
although significant numbers are also found in Paris, Montreal, Chicago, and Boston
(Buchanan, 1979; Laguerre, 1984; Glick, 1974; Souffrant, 1974; Dejean, 1978).
Despite the size of the Haitian community in New York City and the fact that a
substantial number appear to be in the country illegally, this immigration received scant
public attention in the past. In contrast, recent boat arrivals in South Florida, although
they total less than one-fifth the estimated number of Haitians in New York, have been
the subject of much publicity. Haitians had largely ignored Florida as a migration
destination until the last decade. Between 1977 and 1981, however, fifty to seventy
thousand Haitians arrived by boat in South Florida, with the number peaking in 1980
during the Mariel Cuban boatlift (Stepick, 1982a:12; Carter, 1980). Another five to ten
thousand came by airplane. The inflow declined significantly in 1981 and again in 1982,
partly as a consequence of a maritime interdiction program initiated by the U.S.
Haitians migrate from the poorest country in the Caribbean, indeed in the entire
Western hemisphere. Haiti also has one of the world's most inequitable distributions of
income and wealth, with 0.8 percent of the population controlling 44.8 percent of the
country's wealth (Fauntroy, 1980). Yet, Haiti is not a simple case of extreme Third
World poverty caused by lack of resources and overpopulation. Francois Duvalier's
regime of terror, between 1958 and his death in 1971, produced a flight not only of
people but also of capital, which led to a decline in the gross national product
throughout his reign (World Bank, 1978). Under his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc"
Duvalier, manufacturing activity has greatly increased, especially in the assembly sector
(Inter-American Development Bank, 1979; Grunwald, Delatour, and Voltaire, 1984).
Nevertheless, income disparities between rural regions (which contain 75 percent of the
population) and urban areas have increased (Roberts, 1978).
In the midst of this grinding poverty, repression and persecution have been the
hallmarks of both Duvalier regimes. The official political repression is in addition to the
lawlessness which characterize the countryside, where government officials frequently live
solely by extortion. It is this latter, less formal, and less visible repression that lie at
the roots of most recent migration of Eaitians into South Florida (Lundahl, 1979).
A. Individual Migrant Background Characteristics
Our survey reveals that no simple generalizations can be made about these
immigrants' background characteristics. The sample is diverse in its sex ratio,
geographical and urban versus rural origins, education, and occupation. In essence,
Haitians come from mixed backgrounds comparable to those of other foreign groups
arriving in the United States in recent years. Table 2 presents the relevant results.
As seen in the table, Haitian females outnumber males (59 percent vs. 41 percent).
While this contradicts results from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (cited in
Metro Dade County, 1981:6), it is consistent with both U.S. census data and reports of
earlier Haitian migration (Buchanan, 1979; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1984). The sample
is also relatively young, with most respondents being in their prime working years. With
an average age of 29, our sample closely matches figures reported in the 1980 Census
for Haitians nationwide (29.4 years) and in the state of Florida (29.0 years) (U.S. Bureau
of the Census, 1984). It is also consistent with the age distribution of other
international and intranational Haitian migration movements (Allman and May, 1981;
table 2 about here
The sample also reflects mixed origins with respect to both province and size of
birthplace and last residence. While respondents come predominantly from rural areas in
a few provinces, sizable proportions also come from cities and from the province
containing the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. There are respondents who never moved
before as well as others who changed residence numerous times. A plurality, 42 percent,
was born in Haiti's poorest, most rural province, the Northwest, which is also
geographically closest to the U.S. A majority, 63 percent, was also born in villages of
less than 10,000 population. Fully 63 percent had lived more than 20 years in the same
place before their present journey.
On the other hand, 24 percent were born in Haiti's richest, least isolated, most
urban province, the West, which also contains the nation's capital, th3 only city in Haiti
with a population over 100,000. Moreover, many in the sample moved from small, rural
villages to Port-au-Prince before they migrated to the U.S. Over one-third last resided
in cities with greater than 50,000 population. The majority of the sample came to the
United States by boat; twenty-five percent of these boat people stopped either in Cuba
or the Bahamas on their way to South Florida.
The data thus reveal a heterogeneous population much like that of other
international migrant groups. It is a young, primarily rural, but urbanizing population.
Haitians, however, are distinct from other groups in that they came mainly by
clandestine boats and confronted a uniquely different context of reception. Details of
this situation and its efforts are described in the following sections.
B. Arrival and Early Resettlement
Haitians arrived in a city and region which has had a relatively short history of
incorporating foreign migrants. Bahamians played an important role in the construction
of Miami in the 1920s, but the local economy quickly absorbed most of them and did not
develop a long term dependence on new waves of migrants (Mohl, 1984). While Cubans
have been arriving for twenty-five years, they have largely created their own economic
community (Potes and Bach, 1985, Chapter 6). The only segment of the South Florida
economy dependent upon foreign workers is agriculture and even that dependency has
only existed for about twenty years (DeWind et.al., 1977).
When significant numbers of Haitians began arriving on South Florida's shores in
the late 1970s, locally dominant groups perceived the uncontrolled entry of Haitians as a
threat to the economy of the area, an army of unnecessary and unwanted labor.3 They
promoted a resolute policy on the part of the Federal government aimed at "controlling
the borders," that is returning all undocumented Haitians and deterring others from
coming (Loescher and Scanlan, 1984; Miller, 1984). Haitians were drw- political asylum
and were designated instead as "entrants, status pending." Efforts of the Immigration
and Naturalization Service (INS) concentrated thereafter in demonstrating their
ineligibility for permanent residence in the country. The maritime interdiction program
was launched about the same time to prevent further arrivals.
At the same time, however, other groups such as churches and liberal organizations,
lobbied and used the courts to obtain better treatment for the new refugees. The legal
conflict produced an erratic policy. At times, INS denied work authorizations to all
Haitian entrants and, at other times, it freely extended them to everyone who applied.
At times, all arriving Haitians were incarcerated, and at other times they were released
directly into the community.4
Table 3 presents the data on arrival and early resettlement for this sample.
Nearly 40 percent were detained upon their arrival in the U.S. with males being more
likely to be interned and suffering longer internment periods. For many, the results
were severe psychological stress and there appears to have been numerous attempted
suicides (Stepick, 1984).
table 3 about here
Once released into the community, the Haitians had few relatives upon whom they
could rely. On the average, they were met by only one or two kin. Nevertheless, these
few relatives seem to have provided a great deal of support during the first period of
resettlement. Fully 85 percent of our respondents identified relatives as more helpful
than government, church, or other private agencies during the first six months. Perhaps
because of this influence, the new refugees moved almost exclusively into ethnic
neighborhoods with 65 percent settling in predominantly Haitian areas and another 21
percent in native black districts. These neighborhoods are mostly declining ones, marked
by high rates of overcrowding, physical deterioration, and crime.
In spite of the traumas associated with detention and an uncertain legal status,
economic problems have been the central concern of the Haitians since their arrival.
Over 60 percent of female respondents indicated that economic concerns have been their
biggest problem. Men were somewhat more likely to report that they faced no problems
or faced only immigration problems, although nearly 40 percent also reported serious
In sum, Haitian refugees arrived into a city that did not expect or desire their
presence. They suffered frequent incarceration and, when finally released, lacked the
support of strong family networks. They sought refuge in ethnic neighborhoods which
gave them access to cheap, but deteriorated housing. These severe initial difficulties
combined to make economic problems their central concern in the United States.
C. Education. Knowledge of English, and Information about the United States
On the average, recent Haitian refugees came from modest educational and
occupational backgrounds. In our sample, only 5 percent of respondents 25 years of age
and older had graduated from high school. In contrast, 27 percent of all the Haitians in
Florida and 55 percent of Haitians nationwide had reached this level of education (U.S.
Bureau of the Census, 1984). Not a single Haitian in this sample had completed four
years of college, compared to 4 percent of Haitians in Florida and 10 percent
nationwide. Female refugees had particularly low levels of education. As shown in
table 4, only one-fifth as many females as males had finished high school in Haiti. Even
then, these recent arrivals have higher educational levels on the average than their
countrymen back in Haiti. Through the 1960s and 1970s, it was estimated that 80-90%
of the Haitian adult population was illiterate (Lundahl, 1979). In recent years general
levels of education have increased, but still over 75% of the Haitian adult population is
entirely illiterate (USAID, 1983).
Since their arrival in 1980-81, nearly 55 percent of the sample have received some
education in the U.S. On the average, they completed seven months of formal courses
with males averaging a month more than females. Virtually all of the courses have been
in English, with less than 15 percent enrolled in vocational or other non-language
table 4 about here
French is the official language of Haiti and Creole is the language of everyday
use. While English is becoming more popular as U.S. influence spreads, knowledge of
English in Haiti is still very limited. Therefore, we did not expect recent arrivals to
speak English well and the survey confirmed this view. Only 18 percent of the sample
reported speaking English very well compared to 51 percent and 66 percent for Haitians
in Florida and nationwide, respectively (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1984).
It was possible in this survey to move beyond self-reports and assess knowledge of
English objectively. For this purpose, we adapted a Knowledge of English Index
developed previously for use with other immigrant populations (Portes, Clark and Lopez,
1982). Our version combined pictures for which respondents were asked to provide a
description in English with translations of several simple words. Internal consistency of
the Index in this sample, as measured by Cronbach's alpha, is .90. On the whole,
respondents demonstrated very little knowledge of English, although males did
significantly better-than females. Over 50 percent of the women and almost 40 percent
of the men had no knowledge of the language. At the other extreme, one-third of male
respondents had passable English skills, but only one-tenth of females had reached that
We also attempted to assess the amount of basic cultural information that
respondents had about the United States. For this purpose, we also adopted a measure
which had proven successful in earlier research (Portes, Clark, and Lopez, 1982). The
U.S. Information Index is the unit-weighted sum of twelve items ranging from knowledge
of political figures to various tax and credit matters. Reliability is lower than for the
knowledge of English measure but still acceptable at .73. Again, males scored better
than females, but neither demonstrated much information. Sixty percent of the women
and 40 percent of the men could not answer correctly a single item; at the opposite
extreme, 10 percent of male respondents but only 1 percent of the females demonstrated
at least moderate information. These differences in knowledge of U.S. society appear
associated with different levels of media exposure, particularly to the non-ethnic press.
Females have a much lower rate of reading newspapers and, when they do, it is mostly
in Creole. Dependence on the ethnic media is still greater in the case of radio
listening, the trend being again stronger for women.
Results thus reveal a population with above-average levels of education by Haitian
standards, but significantly below the U.S. average. Gender differences are substantial
with women having much less education than men. Many refugees, including men and
women have attempted to improve their education, particularly their English language
skills, but so far these efforts have yielded little results. As a whole, the sample has
little knowledge of English or information about the U.S. society. Reflecting their lower
educations and lower exposure to the general media, women refugees are at a significant
disadvantage relative to the already low levels of males in both knowledge of the
language and of their new surroundings.
D. Employment Status and Occupation
The most dramatic results of this survey pertain to employment status and
occupation. Table 5 presents these findings. The modal form of participation of Haitian
refugees in the South Florida labor market is no participation at all. More than 80
percent of the females and over one-third of the males are jobless. Not only are these
figures much higher than corresponding ones for other minorities, such as Black
Americans, but they are also higher than for the pre-1980 Haitian arrivals. In Florida
and nationwide only 13 percent of the Haitian population was in a similar situation in
1980 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1984).
The jobless rate in this sample does not reflect unwillingness to join the labor
force. To the contrary, less than 2% of the males and just over 6% of the females
define themselves as unemployed and not looking for work. Thus the jobless rate is
almost identical to that of true (involuntary) unemployment. Current levels of
unemployment are not only overwhelming, but they reflect a quasi-permanent situation for
most respondents. Women have been unemployed nearly two-thirds of the time since
their arrival and men slightly under one-third.
table 5 about here
Refugees who managed to find jobs have also experienced significant downward
occupational mobility. The top three occupational categories, skilled blue collar, white
collar and services, and professional and managerial comprised nearly 50 percent of the
sample back in Haiti, but only 6 percent in the U.S. These figures exaggerate the trend
somewhat because of the particular traditional rural occupations many had, such as
tailors, seamstresses, and small scale commerce, which are classified as skilled or white
collar. The tendency persists, however, when comparisons are based on a cross-
nationally valid occupational prestige scale (Treiman, 1977). Occupational status as
measured by this scale declined 33 percent for males and just under 30 percent for
females from Haiti to the United States.
The importance of kin and friends, reflected in results above. ;. confirmed by the
principal sources of assistance in finding a job. Those who found employment did so
largely with the help of relatives and friends; secondarily, refugees found jobs by
themselves. Governmental and private aid agencies offered little help: less than 2
percent of the males and less than 6 percent of females found employment in this
Haitian refugees' entry into the South Florida labor market is also very different
from the principal immigrant group .in the area, Cubans, many of whom have found
employment in enterprises owned by co-ethnics or have moved into self-employment.
Barely 1 percent of employed Haitians work in Haitian-owned or operated firms. Nearly
70 percent work in firms owned by Anglos, although a substantial minority work in firms
run by either Black Americans or Latins. Only one respondent in this sample was
self-employed and he had no employees.
In summary, Haitians have experienced extraordinary difficulty in locating work in
South Florida and when they have found it, it has meant substantial downward mobility
relative to occupations in Haiti. Government and other agencies have proved of little
help in finding employment; instead, family, friends, and the refugee's own efforts have
provided the most important resources. Jobs are overwhelmingly low waged, menial ones
for non-Haitian employers; almost no refugee found work within the ethnic community,
either for Haitian entrepreneurs or by moving into self-employment.
E. Incorie and Use of Public Assistance
The precarious economic situation of this sample manifests itself not only in their
high unemployment rates, but also in the incomes received by those who have found
work. The relevant data are presented in table 6. Among employed respondents, the
median annual income is slightly over $6700. After adjusting for inflation, this figure
represents just over two-thirds of the annual income reported by Haitians in Florida in
1980 and 45 percent of the annual income of Haitians nationwide (U.S. Bureau of the
Census, 1984). While household income is somewhat higher, nearly 60 percent of Haitian
families fall below the federal poverty level for a household of three. In contrast, less
than 40 percent of Haitian households in Florida and 25 percent nationwide were below
this mark in 1980 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1984). The figures are even more striking
for females which have significantly lower incomes; over 70 percent of female refugees
had incomes below the 1983 individual poverty level.
table 6 about here
Consistent with these income figures, females are much more likely to be receiving
some form of welfare aid. More than three times as many females as males were
receiving aid at the time of the survey and they had received it for nearly three times
as long. In spite of these dismal economic circumstances, a substantial proportion of
refugees are sending remittances back to Haiti. Nearly half the men and over a quarter
of the women still managed to save enough to help those they have left behind. Among
those who sent at least one remittance, males averaged over S200 per remittance and
females almost S140.
F. Predictors of Employment. Occupation, and Income
The profound economic difficulties portrayed by the above figures prompts the
question of whether significant differences exist around sample averages and, if so, what
variables are associated with them. Table 7 presents several preliminary but suggestive
results in the form of bivariate breakdowns of four labor market outcomes:
unemployment, welfare aid, occupational status, and monthly income. Each of these is
correlated with a set of predictors selected from the background and education variables
discussed above. Predictors include ascriptive and contextual variables such as marital
status, number of kin at arrival and help received from them; and human capital
variables, including age (an indicator of work experience), -inhiding education, knowledge
of English, and knowledge of U.S. society.
table 7 about here
Reading down the columns of this table, unemployment is significantly correlated
with all the exogenous variables, except those related to kin and family. Older
respondents and those with more education, knowledge of English and information are
significantly more likely to have found employment. Hence, human capital variables
appear strongly related, at least at this preliminary level, with opportunities to find
work. Surprisingly, in the light of previous results, neither number of kin nor help
provided by them correlates with lower unemployment. Hence, although relatives may
have been most helpful in the early months and proven useful in searching for a job, the
strongest correlates of whether one is actually found are individual skills and experience.
The situation is somewhat different in the case of welfare aid. Older refugees,
particularly those older than 38, are significantly less likely to depend on public or
private assistance. Those with moderate or extensive knowledge of English are also
much less likely to receive welfare aid, as are those who had higher incomes in Haiti.
But neither education nor knowledge of English significantly correlate with this
dependent variable, although the trends are in the expected directions. Marital status is
also a major correlate of welfare use. Singles are significantly more likely to receive
assistance, an unsurprising finding since programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent
Children are primarily oriented to support single parents.
The remaining results in table 7 pertain to employed respondents only.
Occupational status, as measured by Treiman's prestige scale, is significantly related to
marital status, education in Haiti, and knowledge of English. Neither age nor kin
assistance or economic status at arrival appear t. effectt early occupational attainment
in the United States. The monotonic relationships between educational and knowledge of
English and occupational status are consistent with results in both the general
stratification literature and that pertaining to immigrants (Borjas, 1984; Nelson and
Tienda, 1985; Stolzenberg, 1982).
Finally, the last column presents breakdowns of 1983 monthly earnings. Married
respondents earn 12 percent more on the average than singles, a relationship which
reverses that of occupation with marital status. Neither education nor knowledge of
English are significantly correlated with earnings in this sample, a result which
contradicts conventional expectations. Instead, it is economic status in the country of
origin and level of information about the receiving one which relate in the predicted
direction with 1983 earnings.
In summary, both ascriptive and human capital variables are consistently related to
labor market outcomes, although in different ways. Older refugees are less likely to be
unemployed or on welfare, but age does not effect occupational and income attainment
among the employed. Married respondents also rely less on welfare and have
significantly higher incomes, although their occupational status is lower than singles on
the average. Education and knowledge of English relate to lesser unemployment and
higher occupational attainment, but not to earnings. Significant associations with the
latter as well as with lesser welfare use correspond to the remaining human capital
variables -- economic status in Haiti and information in the U.S. Number of kin and the
help they provide fail to correlate with a single dependent variable. This unexpected
result can be interpreted as a consequence of two processes: a) family networks among
Haitian refugees are generally feeble; those with three or more relatives awaiting them
in the United States represent a small minority; b) although relatives are often
instrumental in finding jobs for respondents, the help that kin can provide is limited by
their own constrained economic situation.
G. Beliefs and Orientations
Table 8 presents the distribution of responses to a series of attitudinal and belief
items. Most of these questions were drawn from an earlier longitudinal study of Cuban
and Mexican immigrants in the United States (Portes and Bach, 1985). Results from the
earlier study provide a suitable point of comparison with present ones.
table 8 about here
Nearly one-third of Haitian refugees are Protestant, a proportion higher than that
reported for Haiti and also significantly higher than among earlier Latin American
cohorts. The Haitians also appear to attend church more frequently than is the norm
among Latin American immigrants, with nearly 90 percent taking part in services weekly
or monthly. Effects of the difficult re-settlement conditions faced by this group are
reflected in their responses to items tapping satisfaction with their current lives and
perceptions of discrimination. Compared with Latin American immigrants arriving in the
seventies, Haitians are much less satisfied with their current lives. More than 60
percent expressed some degree of dissatisfaction with their situation; among earlier
Cuban and Mexican cohorts, corresponding figures were less than 20 percent after a
similar period of 'residence in the United States (Portes and Bach, 1985:272). Fifty
percent of Haitian refugees believe there is racial discrimination in economic
opportunities and that the American way of life weakens the family. In addition, nearly
two-thirds feel that Anglos consider themselves superior to their own group, a figure 15
percentage points higher than the average among earlier Latin American immigrants after
a similar period. Finally, more than half of our respondents believe that even blacks
discriminate against them, the figure increasing significantly for males.
Actual discrimination suffered by the respondent or his family is reported, however,
to be much lower on the average than what the above perceptions suggest. Further,
despite the critical tone of these responses, close to 70 percent of the refugees are
committed to remain in the United States and plan to acquire U.S. citizenship. This'last
result suggests that notwithstanding the dismal economic conditions faced by most
Haitians, they still evaluate their current situation and prospects as preferable to a
possible return option.
The vignette with which this paper started provides an appropriate summary of its
contents. Jean-Pierre fled Haiti escaping economic and political repression and in search
of a better life. Awaiting him after a perilous journey were distinctly unsympathetic
authorities and an indifferent, if not hostile social environment. After a long period of
incarceration, he was finally released into a community where he confronted prejudice,
discrimination, and exploitation as he searched for work. Jean-Pierre finally succeeded
in obtaining a low-wage, menial job. With his small income, he must support himself and
perhaps help relatives back in Haiti. In spite of all these difficulties, he remains
committed to staying in the U.S. and carving a life for himself here.
This one individual illustrates well the story of many of his compatriots reflected,
in turn, in our survey findings. Few immigrant groups in recent history have suffered
unemployment, downward occupational mobility, and poverty to the extent that Haitians
have. In part, this situation is a consequence of the modest education and occupational
training brought by these refugees -- above-average in the country of origin but
significantly below U.S. standards. The consistent associations between such variables
as education, knowledge of English, and level of information with labor market outcomes
confirm the significance of individual skills for r" ward mobility.
However, this is not the whole story, for even among the better educated and
knowledgeable, unemployment rates are unacceptably high and occupational status and
income extremely low. The second part of the explanation of this situation must be
found, therefore, in the reception accorded to this foreign group. Haitians arrived into
a social context unprepared to receive them either as economic immigrants or as
political refugees. Other migrant flows arriving in the United States at the same time
came from socio-economic origins comparable to the Haitians. Yet despite their modest
abilities and frequently undocumented status, these groups managed to find some sort of
Examples include Mexicans in the Southwest and Midwest (Bach, 1983; Portes and
Bach, 1985: Cornelius, 1981); Dominicans in the Northeast (Grasmuck, 1984; Gurak, n.d.);
and West Indians in Florida agriculture (DeWind et.al, 1977). The commom
characteristics of these groups is that they arrive as part of a well-entrenched system
of migrant labor supply which routinely channels them toward menial employment in
industry and agriculture. In contrast to these experiences, Haitians came to South
Florida without any widespread demand for their services, either in the cities or in rural
areas.5 Thus, they were defined, from the start, as a redundant labor force and were
deprived of de facto cover and protection provided by employers to established sources
of immigrant labor (Stepick, 1982b; NACLA, 1979; Bach, 1983).
Nor were Haitians granted the status of political refugees, routinely accorded in
the United States to Cuban, Vietnamese, and other migrants from communist-dominated
countries. Although Haitians repeatedly claimed political asylum citing widespread
repression in their country, their request was consistently rejected by U.S. authorities.
The latter's efforts to portray the Haitian exodus as an exclusively "economic"
phenomenon stem from a variety of causes which include the status of Haiti as a
friendly nation within the U.S. sphere of influence and the fear that granting asylum to
Haitians could trigger similar outflows throughout the Caribbean. The net result of this .
denial was to exclude Haitians from the legal protection and economic support accorded
to other recent refugee groups under the Federal Refugee Act of 1980.
Yet, despite these unenviable circumstances, there are still reasons for hope as to
the future integration of Haitians in American society. First, there is the motivation of
the immigrants themselves. Individuals who dared cross the 700 miles of open sea to
Florida shores aboard barely seaworthy craft comprise, undoubtedly, a select group.
Their commitment to stay in the United States and to advance economically, despite all
the difficulties bodes well for their future. Second, it is likely that the original
hostility and prejudice found in their new environment will decrease with time. Although
it is improbable that Haitians will be granted political refugee status in the foreseeable
future, they are becoming integrated into the networks of labor supply in agriculture and
services which provide employment to other recent migrant groups. The likely payoff of
this process is the wholesale entry of Haitians into low-wage, menial jobs, but this is
still preferable to widespread unemployment. Such jobs may provide the requisite base
for future advancement by an ambitious group.
Conspiring against this favorable outcome are the widespread discrimination
detected by our respondents among both native whites and blacks and the persistent
opposition of federal authorities to legalize this inflow, reflected in the refusal to this
day to grant Haitians anything more than a temporary entrant status. Whether the
combination of these circumstances will keep Haitians in the bottom rungs of the social
ladder or whether they manage to overcome adversity and achieve significant progress
remains to be seen.
1. The Behavioral Science Research Institute (1983), under commission from the
City of Miami and Dade County, conducted a random sample survey of all Haitians in the
Little Haiti section of Miami. The questionnaire focused exclusively on local public
policy issues such as demography, housing, and income.
2. Although some Haitians did play roles earlier in cultural and political
developments, particularly in Harlem, their numbers were relatively small (Laguerre, 1980;
3. Open-ended interviews conducted during the course of fieldwork in South
Florida indicated that this elite included government officials and leaders in Florida's
Democratic Party. These data were gathered in reference to pre-1980 Haitian boat
people through interviews with high-ranking INS officials. Results were reconfirmed for
the post-1980 arrivals through interviews with American Embassy officials in Haiti.
4. Haitian advocates have challenged each of these shifts in policy. The
Haitians have won most frequently cases at the District Court level on the basis of INS'
alleged violation of the principles of due process and equal protection. These victories,
however, have just as frequently been reversed at the Appeals Court level or rendered
moot by Administrative developments such as Carter's declaration conceding entrant
status to this group (see Stepick, 1982b and Zucker, 1983).
5. An example was the resistance of sugar companies in South Florida to
employ Haitians as cane cutters during the first years of the exodus. Labor for the
industry is supplied by the West Indies under a temporary contract system, the H-2
Program. Haitians have not been part of this program and the opposition of companies
to their employment reflected, in part, their unwillingness to substitute proven West
Indian labor with an uncertain and untried new supply. See Wood. 1984.
Distribution of. 1983 Haitian Entrant Sample
by Sex and Sampling Strata
Background to Emigration
Province of Birth-
Province of Last
ing R to U.S.
Means of Travel and
Z Born in Places
% Born in Cities
% Living in Places
% Living in Cities
Boat Direct to
Boat, Stop in
Boat, Stop in
Arrival and Early Resettlement
Number of Relatives
Most Help Received
During First Six
Principal Problem of
R in the U.S.
% Great Deal or
F Pair Amount
% Kin and Friends
Church and Private
% Never Interned
Mean Weeks of
American Blacks 2
1 Excludes 0 weeks
2 Neighborhood where R has lived mostly since arrival.
Education and Its Correlates
Education in Haiti
Education in U.S.
Knowledge of English
Knowledge of U.S.
% High School
% No U.S. Educa-
% En lish Courses
1 Respondents with at least one month of education in the United States
2 Respondents who read newspapers or listen to radio programs at least monthly.
Employment Status and Occupation
Prestige Scores 42.5
During Past Three
YearsZ 10.7 22.4
% Never Unemployed
Help in Securing
First Job % Kin and Friends
% Union Member
1Excludes the unemployed.
2Respondents who have been unemployed at least once.
Income, Remittances, and Welfare Aid
Income in Haiti
Household Incom -
per month1,2 100
Median 1983 600
dollars per month2
dollars per Month 712
% Below Poverty
% Sending Remit-
Average Last Remit-
ance, 1983 dollars 205
% Home Owners 1.9
% Receiving Aid 12.7
Average Months of Aid
Since Arrival 5.2,
1 U.S. $1 5 gourdes
2 Gainfully employed respondents only.
Percent of households below the federal poverty level for a household of three, 1982.
Includes cash, food, and all other forms of aid, except medical, from private or
Labor Market Outcomes
by Selected Predictor Variables
28 or less
29 37 Yrs.
38 or More
N : Z
One or Two
Three or More
or More 151
70 Gourdes or
71 Gourdes or
Table 7 (continued)
N Z Z'On
Unemployed Welfate Aid
Prestige Scores, employed respondents only-
2Employed respondents only
Beliefs and Orientations
Variable Categories Males Females Total
Z % %
Religion Catholic 62.6 63.6 63.2
Protestant 32.2 33.1 32.8
Other/None 5.2 3.3 4.0
Frequency of Church
Attendance Weekly or Monthly 87.2 87.8 87.6
Satisfaction with Life
in the U.S. Satisfied/Very
Satisfied 40.2 34.8 37.0
Plans to Become
U.S. Citizen ies 69.0 67.3 68.0
Opportunities to Interact
with Anglos Few or None 74.2 92.4 85.9
There is Racial Discrimi-
nation in Economic Oppor-
tunities in U.S. Agree 54.9 46.6 50.0
American Way of Life
Weakens the Family Agree 53.6 52.0 52.6
In relation to Haitians,
Anglos Consider Themselves
Superior Agree 65.2 64.1 64.6
Black Americans Discri-
Haitians Yes 59.8 48.1 52.8
R Has Suffered Discrimination
by Black Americans Frequently 7.6 4.5 5.8
Occasionally 14.2 14.3 14.2
Never 78.2 81.2 80.0
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