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#1759: In Haiti, kids cry for mom in Miami (fwd)


Published Friday, January 7, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 In Haiti, kids cry for mom in Miami------ BY SANDRA MARQUEZ GARCIA

 PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Marc Yvens Dieubon, 10, and his little sister
Germanie Dieubon, 8, stepped off a U.S. Coast Guard cutter in Haiti
 Wednesday and waited on the wharf for their mother to come off the boat
behind them. She never did. They didn't know they made the two-day trip
 back to Haiti without their mother, who was left in Miami, too sick to
be repatriated to Haiti. They didn't even know if she was alive.
 ``The children asked me where their mother was,'' recalled Marie
Josette Rhinvil, 44, an aunt who got off the boat with them Wednesday.
``They wanted to wait.'' At that moment, Marie Josette began to feel
ill, fearing the worst: that her sister was one of the passengers who
died. Yvena Rhinvil, 33, and her children were among 411 passengers who
left Haiti Dec. 28 on an ill-fated voyage aboard a homemade fishing
vessel headed toward Miami. As many as 10 people reportedly died at sea
on the treacherously overloaded boat, either suffocating or jumping
overboard in desperation. At the same time on Wednesday, the children's
pregnant mother, detained at the Krome detention center, was fearing the
worst as well: She had no idea what happened to her children and begged
authorities for help in finding them. On Thursday, The Herald talked to
the children in Haiti. ``Oh that is wonderful, wonderful news,'' said
Cheryl Little, director of the Immigrant Advocacy Center, which is
representing Yvena Rhinvil. ``The mother is going to be so relieved. She
was worried beyond belief.'' Marie Josette said she and the children
learned what happened to Yvena after questioning passengers who came off
the boat. Their mother, they were told, was one of four women allowed to
remain on American soil because of her frail medical condition following
the difficult journey. ``She is their mother and children need to be
with their parents,'' Mariet Josette said.


 At the family home in Port-au-Prince -- a modest two-bedroom house
tucked behind a row of shops -- the children watched a soccer game on
television Thursday and took comfort in the company of relatives. ``I'm
thinking of her,'' Marc Yvens said when a cousin asked him to relay a
message to his mom. Germanie couldn't muster a word. The news of their
mother's absence was still too painful. The children cried all day,
Marie Josette said. Spokesmen for the U.S. Coast Guard and the
Immigration and Naturalization Service said they had no idea the
children had been sent back to Haiti. ``This is the first I'm hearing of
it,'' Coast Guard spokesman Gibran Soto said Thursday. ``We weren't
aware of any lady reporting that she was leaving children
 behind on the boat.'' When the Coast Guard boarded the boat, a Haitian
passenger did the translating and he didn't say anything about the
children, Soto said. INS officials said if they knew about the children,
they wouldn't have been separated from their mother. ``If we identify
that there are little kids involved, we would attempt to keep the
 family together,'' said Don Mueller, INS spokesman in Washington, D.C.
``But we weren't on the boat; the Coast Guard was. I would presume the
Coast was not aware.''


 According to an affidavit signed by Yvena Rhinvil Wednesday, she got
sick shortly after the boat left Haiti for the United States on Dec. 28.
She was moved to another part of the boat and never saw her children
again -- not even when the vessel ran aground on New Year's morning just
two miles offshore near Key Biscayne. She said she kept trying to tell
U.S. authorities about her children, but no one listened to her amid all
the chaos. The trip, fraught with mishaps, turned out nothing like Yvena
hoped, her relatives said. The idea to leave Haiti took hold eight
months ago when a neighbor from Tortue Island told the two sisters about
the planned boat trip to Miami. Marie Josette said her sister saw it as
an opportunity to start a better life for her children. Yvena studied
typing after high school. Her only job was working as a sales clerk
 at a drugstore. The salary was not enough to cover her bus fare and she
quit. She never found another job. Marie Josette said her sister was
raising her children alone. ``She loves her children so much,'' Marie
Josette said. ``She couldn't leave them. They were everything to her.''


 To prepare for their new life in America, Marc Yvens was held back from
fourth grade this year so his school tuition could be used to buy
clothes and provisions, family members said. By Dec. 18, the suitcases
were packed and the journey began. The sisters and the two children
boarded a series of buses that would eventually get them to the shore of
Tortue Island in northwest Haiti. But disaster struck along the way: a
bus carrying the family crashed into an oncoming car and Yvena, who is
pregnant, was badly injured. She was rushed to a nearby hospital where
doctors advised her that she would need to stay for several days.
Fearing they might miss their ride to freedom, the sisters decided to
head on their way after just one day. ``We couldn't wait because we
didn't know what day the boat would leave,'' Marie Josette said.
 The made it to Tortue Island before the Dec. 28 departure for Miami.
For days, the family camped out with other passengers. Once it was time
to leave, they boarded the homemade vessel. But their high hopes soon
gave way to desperation as the boat got more and more crowded. The
family was lucky to secure a spot on the upper deck -- until
 Yvena got sick. It was the last time that Marc Yvens and his sister
Germanie saw their mom. And they don't know when they'll see her again.

 Herald staff writer Amy Driscoll contributed to this report.