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#1726: U.S. Returns Migrants to Haiti (fwd)


Wednesday January 5 2:51 PM ET______  U.S. Returns Migrants to Haiti
By MICHAEL NORTON Associated Press Writer 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - William Peniel caught a glimpse of the
Promised Land on New Year's Day when the frail ship carrying him and
more than 400 others ran aground off Florida. But on Wednesday, the U.S.
Coast Guard brought them back to the misery they fled.`God's own country
was in reach. I would have preferred being shot on the spot to returning
to the mud of Haiti,'' the despondent 33-year old fisherman said after
Coast Guard cutter Valiant dropped him off on the pier. Peniel's story
was a variation on the common theme of grinding poverty and 
hopelessness. He left his wife and three children behind in northwest
Jean Rabel. Coastal waters have been fished out, and he can't make ends
meet. Ronald Pierre, 19, had been driving a truck without a license. The
identity card he needed to obtain a chauffeur's license costs
 $14.70 - more than he could afford. Peniel and Pierre were among 411
migrants found packed shoulder-to-shoulder on a 60-foot wooden boat that
ran aground off Key Biscayne shortly after midnight on Jan. 1 - the same
day Haiti celebrates its independence as the world's first black
 republic. The ship apparently had been at sea for four days. The
immigrants told Coast Guard officials that as many as six people died
 during the 600-mile voyage and their bodies were thrown overboard.
 Four Haitian women - three pregnant and one with a high fever -
remained hospitalized in Miami but were expected to be repatriated
later. At Port-au-Prince wharf, officials gave 389 Haitians $11.75 each
to get home by bus. With them were 16 Dominicans and two Chinese whom
Haitian officials said they would deport. ``Every year at this time, con
men persuade Haitians they can slip through Coast Guard surveillance,
which they claim has lowered its guard because of the holiday season,''
said Carol Joseph, director of Haiti's National Migration Office.
 Illegal voyages cost from $90 to nearly $3,000, with people often
selling all their belongings to risk reaching the United
 States, he said. Haitian activists have criticized the repatriation and
protested in Miami, saying it is racist to turn back Haitians and
welcome Cubans. U.S. Embassy spokesman Daniel Whitman denied that,
saying exceptions are made only for illegal immigrants from Cuba,
 who are allowed to remain in the United States if they reach the U.S.
shore. Those caught at sea are returned to the communist-governed
island. Many Haitians were granted political asylum during the 1991-1994
military coup when tens of thousands fled political repression and
economic hardship in flimsy boats. After U.S. troops intervened to
restore democracy, the United States refused to give asylum to Haitian
economic refugees and the exodus halted. In 1999, the Coast Guard
rescued or turned back 363 Haitians, compared to 1,206 in 1998 and 587
in 1997.