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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

500 Haitians sent to Tacoma, Yakima detention centers

Juan Munoz, of Tijuana, Mexico, carries two-year-old Haitian migrant Juandele at a shelter for migrants on their way to the United States and for deported migrants Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, in Tijuana, Mexico.
AP Photo/Gregory Bull
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Juan Munoz, of Tijuana, Mexico, carries 2-year-old Haitian migrant Juandele at a shelter for migrants on their way to the United States on Monday, Nov. 14, in Tijuana, Mexico.

Five hundred or so Haitian immigrants are currently being held at detention facilities in Tacoma and Yakima, according to attorneys with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle.

The detainees are mostly young men who left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, spent a few years on work permits in Brazil, then recently migrated to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek humanitarian relief. 

Many came because of a U.S. program that granted work permits to some Haitians after the 2010 earthquake. But newly arrived immigrants do not qualify.

Still, more than 5,000 Haitians have arrived at the U.S. border the past year — a 500 percent increase over the previous year, according to NPR.

Jorge Baron, executive director of the immigrant rights project, said immigration officials  transferred some Haitians to Washington state because border facilities are full. The Yakima group arrived in October, and Baron said it took more than a month for them to receive legal help.

"They're concerned that this has been kind of hidden," Baron said. "They're concerned that they've been moved to this area and forgotten."

In November, immigration officials confirmed the number of people in detention was 20 to 30 percent higher than usual, with about 41,000 people detained across the country. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security is looking for extra bed space in places like Yakima.

Year started with KUOW: 2006