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220 Haitians Wade To Shore ; Boat Runs Aground After 8 Days At Sea U.S. Treatment Of Refugees Assailed
South Florida Sun-Sentinel; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Oct 30, 2002; Madeline Baro Diaz, Diana Marrero, and David Cazares Miami Bureau Staff Writers Angela Delgado, Karla Shores, Thomas Monnay, and Vicky Agnew contributed to this report;
Abstract: PHOTOS 4 MAP; Staff photo/Mike Stocker (color) REFUGEES: Haitian refugees line up on the Rickenbacker Causeway between Key Biscayne and Miami after their boat came ashore. A low-flying helicopter buzzes overhead. Many from the boat tried to run away, but most were detained by authorities. Staff photo/ A. Enrique Valentin WAITING: Some of the 220 Haitian arrivals sit along the Rickenbacker Causeway on Tuesday as they wait for U.S. authorities to take them to the Krome Avenue Detention Center. AP photo/ Alan Diaz THIRSTY: A Haitian chil dsmiles at a Miami-Dade County worker after receiving a cup of water on Tuesday. AP photo/ABC News TELEVISION IMAGE: Haitian refugees jam a wooden boat approaching Key Biscayne on tuesday. About 220 were on board. Staff graphic/Rich Rokicki MAP: Haitians land more than 200 refugess near Hobe Beach on Rickenbacker Causeway in Biscayne Bay.
Full Text: (Copyright 2002 by the Sun-Sentinel)
A boat carrying at least 220 Haitians on board ran aground off Virginia Key on Tuesday with many passengers leaping off the bow, swimming ashore and swarming the Rickenbacker Causeway.
The fleeing refugees jumped in the beds of trucks and knocked on car windows while trying to escape. Police blocked the bridge for several hours, causing a traffic jam at rush hour that lasted into early evening.
The scene stunned motorists, some on their way home from work or driving to pick up their children when they saw immigrants running on the road.
"Some were barefoot, skinny, very skinny, without shirts," said Damaris Placido, who works on Key Biscayne and was on the causeway when people started running in front of her car. "Some had kids in their arms. Everything was really fast."
Carol Barrantes, another commuter on her way to pick up her daughter from school, saw police officers chasing one of the men.
The men "were without shirts and their shorts and shoes were wet," she said. "One crossed in front of me. He was just running. He wouldn't stop or look. I don't know if he got away. He was the first that I saw. All the cops ran over there and I screamed to them to leave him alone. He's a human being."
According to some Haitian-American community leaders on the scene, the refugees said they had been at sea for eight days and had left from Port-au-Prince. The Immigration and Naturalization Service launched an investigation into whether the trip was connected to smuggling, or whether the people on board banded together to arrange the journey to the United States.
Jim Goldman, INS assistant district director, said 196 people were in custody and taken to Krome detention center in southwest Miami-Dade County for examinations and processing. Four others were taken to area hospitals, but there were no serious injuries. The U.S. Coast Guard took 20 people out of the water and put them on a Coast Guard cutter.
"We also think some people may have gotten away," Goldman said. "Thank God we're unaware any drownings have occurred."
There were also reports that the refugees picked up some Cuban immigrants along the way. Goldman said he did not know of any Cubans on board, but there might have been Dominicans.
INS will review each individual case and determine whether to release any of the immigrants, and the agency will try to keep families together, Goldman said.
The Coast Guard came across the 50-foot wooden boat about 3:30 p.m. in Biscayne Bay, south of the Rickenbacker Causeway, said spokeswoman Anastasia Burns. Another Coast Guard vessel came to the scene so the crew could see how many people were on board, determine their medical situation and how safe the boat was. The boat eventually grounded around 4 p.m.
"It was jam-packed with people," Burns said. "It was an extremely dangerous situation."
While abandoning the boat, some of the migrants lowered children into the arms of people waiting in the water. As the immigrants scattered on the bridge, police fanned out, looked through bushes and gathered the refugees in groups.
Many of the Haitians they found sat on the bridge awaiting immigration authorities while dozens of police cars with their lights on lined the causeway.
Burns said there were no immediate reports of deaths, although the Coast Guard and other agencies searched the water for anyone who might have gone under.
The group varied in age. The youngest on board was about 18 months old and the older passengers appeared to be in their early 30s, said Miami police spokesman Delrish Moss.
Bernice Morris, an assistant to North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin, said at least eight children and three pregnant women were on board.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue sent emergency personnel to evaluate the migrants.
Around 6 p.m., a small group of Haitian-Americans started an impromptu rally near the bridge. They came with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jimmy Morales and North Miami Councilman Jacques Despinosse and held signs that read "Free Haitian Refugees," and chanted "Let My People Go."
The protesters said they were angry because police let Morales go through the police lines to try to talk to some of the officials but initially did not let Despinosse through. He was allowed to pass only after showing identification.
Some shouted about the disparity that exists between the treatment of Cuban refugees and Haitians. They chanted "Equal treatment, equal treatment."
The immigrants' boat was towed away about 5:30 p.m. By 6:20 p.m. all of the migrants were on INS or charter buses taking them to Krome. The bridge was reopened about 6:30 p.m.
The dramatic scenes, played out on TV news, renewed the debate about U.S. immigration policy toward Haitian refugees. Several people on the scene and watching on television were similarly moved.
Jorge Alejandro Rodriguez, a Marine on vacation from his base in North Carolina, saw the people jumping off the boat.
"It reminded me of what I went through, it was the same way," he said, speaking of when he came from Cuba on a boat about four years ago.
"It made me want to cry," said his wife, Lesly Rodas. "I know they'll turn them back, poor things. I wanted them to keep running so they'd escape."
Frederick Mahlman, who works for the city of Miami, was riding his bicycle in the area when he saw the scene unfold.
"Really startling, people trying to find a new life," he said. "People throwing themselves on a boat onto the sea. There was a man on the boat who had a little girl, like 2 years old in a pink dress, he was holding her out of the side of the boat waiting for someone to grab her. A cop went into the water in his boots and got her. I'll never forget that."
'PEOPLE WERE CRYING'
South Florida's Haitian-American community mobilized upon hearing the news of the immigrant landing.
Marie Estime-Thompson, an attorney with the Haitian Lawyers Association, said her group plans to send a group of attorneys to Krome to speak to the migrants on Wednesday. She said she was able to speak to some of the immigrants. They might have been towing a raft and there might have been three or four Cubans on board.
"My concern was making sure they were all comfortable," she said. "A lot of them are cold, a lot of them are hungry."
Many callers to WLQI 1320 AM, a Creole station, criticized the Haitian government, which they said is responsible for people risking their lives on rickety boats to come here for a better life. Others were trying to find out what they could do to help the new arrivals.
As soon as the news broke, Palm Beach County residents also started calling the offices of Daniella Henry, executive director of the Haitian American Community Council in Delray Beach.
"People were crying, they were frustrated because they said the Haitians were being treated just like [Osama] bin Laden terrorists," Henry said.
Henry said she expected that if a large number of the Haitians were released into the community, some would be staying in Palm Beach County with relatives.
About 125 people gathered Tuesday night across from INS headquarters in Miami in a peaceful but noisy protest. Chanting in English and Creole, they called for the release of the immigrants and due process.
INS chief of staff John Shewairy spoke with some of the Haitian leaders at the protest, who asked that the detainees be taken care of, that those who made it to shore be released and that the leaders be allowed to visit the refugees.
"Certainly we are well aware of the concerns that the Haitian community," Shewairy said. "Our primary concern obviously is the safety health and well being. They're being well taken care of."
Community activist Marleine Bastien was not reassured.
"He didn't really give any indication that our request will be considered and honored," she said. "It seems to me we were given lip service."
Those at the Rickenbacker Causeway scene included politicians and U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez.
"Nine times out of 10 these people will be incarcerated when other nationalities are allowed to go free," said State Sen. Kendrick Meek.
Jean Robert Lafortune, head of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, said he was upset to see the Haitian refugees make a desperate run for land.
"It's an indescribable feeling," he said. "It hurts. That's somebody's family, somebody's daughter, somebody's son."Cars were stuck on both sides of the causeway during the 21/2-hour ordeal and the traffic jam extended into downtown Miami.
Frank Iniguez, a tow truck driver from Westchester, was on his way to tow a car when he got stuck in traffic near the bridge.
"I can't leave," he said. "I can't go anywhere."
But that was not a bad thing, he said, since he not only got a break from work but also saw an old friend he hadn't seen in years.
Many downtown office workers had no idea what caused the delay in their drive home.
Isabel Hormilla, who lives in Kendall, was headed south, but after being stuck in traffic, turned around so she could find another way to Interstate 95.
"I thought it was an accident because cops were coming from everywhere," said Hormilla, an employee of a Brickell law firm. "It took me 15 minutes just to get around the corner."
Staff Writers Angela Delgado, Karla Shores, Thomas Monnay, and Vicky Agnew contributed to this report.
Madeline Baro Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 305-810-5007.
[Illustration] PHOTOS 4 MAP; Caption: Staff photo/Mike Stocker (color) REFUGEES: Haitian refugees line up on the Rickenbacker Causeway between Key Biscayne and Miami after their boat came ashore. A low-flying helicopter buzzes overhead. Many from the boat tried to run away, but most were detained by authorities. Staff photo/ A. Enrique Valentin WAITING: Some of the 220 Haitian arrivals sit along the Rickenbacker Causeway on Tuesday as they wait for U.S. authorities to take them to the Krome Avenue Detention Center. AP photo/ Alan Diaz THIRSTY: A Haitian chil dsmiles at a Miami-Dade County worker after receiving a cup of water on Tuesday. AP photo/ABC News TELEVISION IMAGE: Haitian refugees jam a wooden boat approaching Key Biscayne on tuesday. About 220 were on board. Staff graphic/Rich Rokicki MAP: Haitians land more than 200 refugess near Hobe Beach on Rickenbacker Causeway in Biscayne Bay.
Sub Title: [Palm Beach Edition] Start Page: 1A Dateline: KEY BISCAYNE Companies: Immigration & Naturalization ServiceSic:928120 Coast Guard-USSic:928110Sic:9621
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