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9847: U.S. battles rumors that lure Haitian migrants (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By Jane Sutton
MIAMI, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Fearing for the safety of Haitians who might
try to reach America in flimsy boats, U.S immigration officials will
attempt on Wednesday to quash a false rumor in Haiti that U.S. immigration
laws have been eased since the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency said.
Rumors have been sweeping Haiti that U.S. visa requirements have been
relaxed because workers are needed following the attacks on New York and
On Wednesday, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in
Washington will beam a message via satellite to Haitian journalists at a
news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, encouraging them to
spread the word that U.S. immigration policy has not eased, INS spokesman
Dan Kane said.
"On the contrary, the United States is increasing its enforcement
activities all along our borders," Kane said. "All Haitians interdicted at
sea are being returned to Port-au-Prince."
While the news conference will be beamed to several other countries,
the INS is especially concerned about potential Haitian migrants because
their attempts to make the 600-mile (960 km) ocean journey to Florida often
involve voyages in dangerously overloaded and often poorly made boats, Kane
Federal agents suspect the rumors are behind a recent jump in the
number of Haitians trying to enter the United States illegally by boat.
During a three-day period in November, the U.S. Coast Guard
intercepted 350 Florida-bound Haitians in five boats. Two other boats
carrying more than 200 Haitians disappeared at sea and the passengers are
presumed to have died.
On Monday, a poorly made wooden sailboat packed with 185 Haitians ran
aground at Biscayne National Park south of Miami. The passengers, jammed
shoulder to shoulder, were brought ashore because federal authorities
feared the 30-foot (9 metre) boat would capsize.
In addition, when the passengers are not deported back to Haiti, their
friends and relatives mistakenly believe they have made it safely to Miami,
In fact, Kane said, "These unseaworthy boats break up ... Many people
are dying at sea."
By agreement between the United States and Haiti, undocumented Haitian
migrants intercepted at sea are returned to their homeland. The U.S. Coast
Guard has intercepted 1,637 so far this year, compared with 1,394 for all
of last year.
Those who make it to shore are allowed to pursue political asylum
claims, though most are considered economic migrants and eventually
The Haitians brought ashore in the national park on Monday were taken
to an immigration detention center, where their claims will be reviewed,
INS spokesman Rodney Germain said.