The 2000 U.S. Census found approximately 750,000 Haitians residing in this country. This figure, however, reflects an undercount of as much as 50 percent in some neighborhoods. Florida, with 268,000 Haitians, has more than one-third of the nation's total.
The second largest concentration, 180,000, is found in New York. Massachusetts, primarily Boston, has a significant community of some 50,000 Haitians. The remaining population is spread thinly throughout many states.
Although Miami is the closest city to Haiti and its climate more similar, the legacy of segregation still prevailed, and most Haitians who arrived in the 1960s settled in the northeastern United States and French Canada, where racism was less severe. A large Haitian community began to emerge in New York, along with others in Chicago, Boston, and Montreal.
The immigrants encountered the problems and difficulties common to many new arrivals, compounded by the fact that the Haitians were "triple minorities": they were foreigners, spoke a language (Haitian Creole) that no one else did, and they were black.
Many of those who came temporarily subsequently overstayed their visas, thus becoming undocumented immigrants. Nevertheless, immigration authorities seldom pursued illegal Haitians in the Northeast or Midwest, and their presence in those regions did not attract much public attention until 1997, when Abner Louima was attacked and sexually assaulted in a New York City police precinct.
As the government and Haitian advocates fought during the 1980s over the rights of the newcomers to remain in this country, a South Florida Haitian community was emerging. Its focal point, known as Little Haiti, lies just north of downtown Miami and has become the center of Haitian life in the United States.
The Haitian population in South Florida is overwhelmingly composed of recent arrivals - nearly two-thirds of the foreign-born Haitians in Miami came in the 1980s, with 40 percent arriving between 1980 and 1984. Only 7 percent of Miami's Haitians reported in 1990 that they had arrived prior to 1970.
It is a youthful population: nearly 42 percent were between thirty and forty-four years old, while close to 20 percent were fourteen years old or younger. However, the number of Haitian births in Miami held steady at 2,000 per year in the 1980s and early 1990s, a rate comparable to the broader population growth. Thus, the Haitian population is growing more from immigration than from new births in this country.
Refugees in South Florida found that anti-Haitian prejudice and discrimination created barriers to finding employment. In the 1970s, rumors that tuberculosis was endemic among Haitians swept through the state just as the early arrivals began to find work in the restaurant industry. The rumors were proven to be false, but the publicity created a strong stigma that affected many individuals. Restaurant owners, of course, did not want tuberculosis-infected workers. A number of Haitians were fired and many more did not get hired. Just a few years after the tuberculosis scare, when AIDS was first identified as a deadly disease, Haitians were again targeted.
Except for low-wage, dead-end jobs, there were few opportunities for the refugees. A 1983 survey showed that more than one-third had never worked since coming to this country. Nearly 30 percent of the males and more than 70 percent of the females were unemployed. But the situation improved and, by the 1990s, Haitians unemployment rates, though still high, had begun to approximate those of African Americans. Businesses realized that Haitians would work cheaply and without complaint.
Beginning in the 1980s many of the first wave of immigrants who had settled in the Northeast and Canada moved to Florida; they diversified the economic mix by adding a component of entrepreneurs, professionals, and other middle-class Haitians.