Haitians began arriving on U.S. shores long before the widely publicized boat people crisis of the early 1980s. In fact, historians have documented a Haitian presence as early as the 1770s when a contingent of Haitian soldiers fought in the American Revolutionary War. During the same period, maroons slaves who had escaped the oppressive plantation system could be found inNew York, New Orleans, and other U.S. cities. Individuals of Haitian descent who have made contributions to the United States include Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the first non-Indian to settle Chicago; John James Audubon, the naturalist; and Pierre Toussaint, a former slave who is under consideration by the Vatican for canonization as a saint for his humanitarian work in New York.
Recent immigration to the United States can be viewed in terms of specific “waves,” each wave associated with a wave of repression within Haiti. The first wave began in 1957 following Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s rise to power. These immigrants were members of the well-educated political and economic elite. Planning to return to Haiti after the ouster of Duvalier, they did not realize that their flight would forever affect the development of Haiti by depriving the country of its human resources. The next wave, in the late 1960s, coincided with the civil rights movement in the United States. Other factors terrorist tactics of the Duvalier government, a more liberal U.S. immigration policy, and the need of U.S. companies to replenish a labor force drained by the Vietnam War contributed to the influx of Haitians into the United States. For the most part, this wave of immigrants comprised skilled people from the middle and lower middle classes.