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#1764: Haiti mom from boat pleads: Bring my kids back to U.S. (fwd)


Published Saturday, January 8, 2000, in the Miami Herald 

 Haiti mom from boat pleads: Bring my kids back to U.S.___

 Yvena Rhinvil blinked back tears of relief and broke into a huge smile
Friday at the news that her two children, ages 8 and 10, were safely in
the arms of relatives in Haiti after the family became separated on a
perilous voyage to the United States. ''I couldn't eat, I couldn't
sleep,'' Rhinvil, 33, said in Creole, through an interpreter. ''I just
wanted to know if my children were alive.'' But she doesn't know when
she'll see them again. ''I want to be in the same place with my
children,'' she said Friday, sitting in a visiting room at the Krome
 detention center. ''I want them here with me.'' Rhinvil is pursuing a
claim of political asylum, which could separate her from her family for
many months more. Rhinvil and her children were among 411 passengers who
 left Haiti on Dec. 28 in an overloaded, homemade boat headed for Miami.
When the vessel ran aground on New Year's morning, two miles offshore,
the U.S. Coast Guard took control of it. The Coast Guard brought four
ill passengers -- including Rhinvil and a cousin, Gladine Gerome
Dossous, also pregnant -- ashore for treatment. The remaining 407
passengers were returned to Haiti on Wednesday, the two unaccompanied
 children inadvertently among them.


 Rhinvil, four months pregnant, said she repeatedly told interpreters
for the U.S. Coast Guard and, later, immigration officials that her two
children were missing and may have been sent back to Haiti without her.
 In Haiti, the two children disembarked from a Coast Guard cutter
searching for their mother. They remained with an aunt, fearful that
their mother had been among those who did not survive the treacherous
voyage. As many as 10 people reportedly died at sea, suffocating or
jumping overboard in desperation. Rhinvil became sick shortly after the
boat left Haiti and was moved to a cabin below deck. From there, she
lost track of her children. The boat, she said, was packed
shoulder-to-shoulder with people seeking new lives on U.S. shores.
 A Herald reporter located the children Thursday in the family home in
 Port-au-Prince. The children had been crying all day, hoping for news
of their mother. Officials with the Coast Guard and the Immigration and
Naturalization Service have said they did not know about the separated
family. INS policy is to keep families together when possible, a
spokesman said. With the children located, Rhinvil's attorney sent a
letter Friday to INS Commissioner Doris Meissner requesting
reunification of the family.


 ''INS interdicted the boat on which they were traveling, brought Ms.
Rhinvil to the U.S. and repatriated her children without any attempt to
respond to her pleas to help her find her children on the boat,'' wrote
Cheryl Little, director of the Immigrant Advocacy Center, which is
representing Rhinvil and her cousin. ''This family has suffered terribly
as a result.'' An INS spokesman said reunification prior to a decision
about Rhinvil's application for political asylum is unlikely. Under INS
policy, if asylum is granted, Rhinvil can apply for permission to bring
her children to the United States. The process can take months or years,
said spokesman Don Mueller. ''I've heard of it happening in as little as
three months, but that's fairly quick,'' Mueller said. ''With appeals,
it can go on for years.'' For Rhinvil, even this short separation from
her children has been a heart-wrenching experience:
 ''I just want them here with me,'' she said, looking down at a photo of
the children in Haiti. ''We need to be together.'' Rhinvil and her
cousin, Dossous, both say that however traumatic the trip, they
 don't regret making it. ''Going back to Haiti is closer to death than
life,'' Dossous said.