SANTIAGO, Chile — With jokes, upbeat Caribbean music and vacation scenes of sun-kissed beaches and palm trees, Haitian influencers on YouTube and TikTok advertise charter flights to South America.
But they are not targeting tourists.
Instead, they are touts for a thriving, little-known shadow industry that is profiting from the U.S. government sending people back to Haiti, a country besieged by gang violence.
More than a dozen South American travel agencies have rented planes from low-budget Latin American airlines — some of them as large as 238-seat Airbuses — and then sold tickets at premium prices. Many of the customers are Haitians who had been living in Chile and Brazil before they made their way to the Texas border in September, only to be expelled by the Biden administration and prevented from seeking asylum. They are using the charter flights to flee Haiti again and return to South America.
Some, clearly, plan to make another try to enter the United States.
Rodolfo Noriega of the National Coordinator of Immigrants in Chile said Haitians are being exploited by businesses taking advantage of their desperation. They “are at the end of a chain of powerful businesses making money from this circuit of Haitian migration,” he said.
The airlines and travel agencies say they work within the legal norms of the countries where they are operating from and are simply providing a service to the Haitian diaspora in South America.
The thriving business model was revealed in an eight-month investigation by The Associated Press in partnership with the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center and its Investigative Reporting Program.
This story is part of an ongoing Associated Press series, “Migration Inc,” which investigates individuals and companies that profit from the movement of people who flee violence and civil strife in their homelands.
Haitians sick of the deprivations of their island home resettled in Chile or Brazil, many after Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake. Then, last fall, struggling as the pandemic hit local economies and beset by racism, thousands decided to make their way to the Texas border town of Del Rio. There, they ran afoul of a public health order, invoked by the Trump administration and continued under the Biden administration, that blocks migrants from requesting asylum.
Authorities returned them not to South America, where some of their children were born, but to their original homeland — Haiti.
Some interviewed by the AP said they feared for their lives there and wanted …….