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#1962: After 3 weeks, mom reunited with two repatriated children (fwd)


Published Sunday, January 23, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 'The day that God has made' After 3 weeks, mom reunited with two
repatriated children 


 When the moment finally came for Yvena Rhinvil to hold her children
once again, she threw her arms open as wide as they would go, then
clasped both small figures to her, kissing them fiercely. ''To everyone
who is standing up, fighting for me, I thank you from the bottom of my
 heart,'' the 33-year-old Haitian mother said Saturday to a crowd that
welcomed her children at Miami International Airport with bouquets and
American flags. It was a far cry from the last time the family
 had attempted to enter the country. That was on New Year's Eve, when
411 refugees, most of them Haitians, were stranded on a dangerously
overloaded fishing boat two miles off Key Biscayne. Under the
complexities of U.S. immigration policy, she was allowed into the
 country because she was ill; her children, however, were sent back to
Haiti without her. Saturday, she held Marc, 10, and Germanie, 8, for the
first time in three weeks, stroking their faces. The children broke into
vast grins, their faces suddenly re-animated. For a brief moment, the
threesome clung together, separate from the crowd. Rhinvil's lawyer,
Cheryl Little, director of the Immigrant Advocacy Center, blinked
 back tears. Then Rhinvil straightened up and walked toward the podium,
 accompanied by applause. Her two children, not about to be separated
from their mother again, ran across the room to her, triggering a huge
burst of applause from onlookers. Surrounding them, a sea of cameras,
television crews and reporters documented every step of the reunion.
 ''This is the day that God has made, because you are reunited with your
children,'' said U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Miami, who pushed immigration
officials to allow the children to join their mother in Florida. ''This
is an amazing day.''


 The case has become a rallying point for Haitian Americans and African
 Americans, who staged a mock funeral march through the streets of
Miami's Little Haiti last week, protesting what they see as unequal
treatment under U.S. immigration laws. Under current U.S. law, refugees
intercepted at sea are to be repatriated, but many Haitians believe the
law unfairly favors Cubans over Haitians. A day after the march,
officials of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
 granted the children permission to enter the country and remain while
their mother pursues her political-asylum claim. Rhinvil, one of four
women taken off the boat for medical treatment, said she repeatedly
tried to tell U.S. authorities about her children, but no one listened
to her amid the chaos and language barriers on the boat.


 The children came from Haiti on Saturday accompanied by an entourage
from Miami. Meek, along with her son, state Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami,
and Marleine Bastien, president of the Haitian Women of Miami, flew to
Port-au-Prince to pick up the children. Before leaving Port-au-Prince,
the children had lunch with the Miami contingent in the offices of the
National Coalition for Haitian Rights, a New York-based organization
with an office in Haiti. The children, dressed in their crisply starched
Sunday best, served pieces of cake to the Meeks to thank them for their
help. At the airport, they kissed a tearful cousin goodbye. ''I know
they will be fine because they will be with their mother,'' said Nadege
Viltus, 20, as she wiped her eyes.


 The children each took the hand of an adult and walked solemnly to the
airplane. Germanie held the hand of Kendrick Meek, clutching a new teddy
bear with the other. Marc held Carrie Meek's hand but never let go of a
boxed game of Chinese checkers, still wrapped in plastic.
 The children were ushered to first-class seats for their first plane
trip, donated by American Airlines. They drew pictures of planes and
clouds, and asked the flight attendants for more Coke. Germanie peered
out the window, holding tightly to her teddy bear as she watched the
Miami skyline approach.


 Bastien had purchased a puzzle of the United States, each state colored
 differently, to help show the children where they were going.
 ''He put his finger right on Miami,'' Bastien said of the boy, patting
his cheek. ''He's a smart cookie.'' The reception the newly reunited
family received at the airport seemed to overwhelm them a bit, as they
sat still in their assigned chairs, facing more than a dozen television
cameras. Rhinvil, who is four months' pregnant, kept a watchful eye on
them, even as she thanked the crowd, over and over. ''This is a big day
for me,'' she said. ''Because I see my children today.'' They will live
in Lauderdale Lakes with Rhinvil's sister. Rhinvil's first priority for
the children: ''Go to school.''