U.S. border patrol officials have detained about 100 Haitian migrants whose boat landed on shore near Miami Wednesday after a three-week journey. VOA's Brian Wagner reports that human rights groups are protesting U.S. plans to send the migrants back home through an expedited deportation process.
The aging wooden sailboat came ashore early Wednesday near Miami, ending a more than three-week journey for the group of migrants. Residents said they watched as many of the passengers jumped into the water and swam to the beach, while others had difficulty swimming.
U.S. authorities said at least one migrant died before making it to the shore. Emergency personnel arrived at the beach to provide medical care for the surviving migrants, who complained of going days with no food or fresh water after leaving northern Haiti earlier this month. Officials said the group later was transferred to a border patrol facility for processing.
Shortly after the arrival, Haitian community leaders organized protests against U.S. policies that call for most undocumented Haitian migrants found in the country to be deported. The executive director of the Haitian Women of Miami, Marlene Bastien, said the migrants who arrived Wednesday may not have a chance to argue for a right to remain in the United States. "They [U.S. officials] have placed them in expedited removal. This is of great concern to us right now. That means they are going to try to remove them without giving them the right of due process. And that is wrong," she said.
Like most undocumented migrants, Haitians are ordered to return to their home country unless they receive refugee status or other special consideration. However, Cuban migrants who arrive on U.S. soil are allowed to remain, while those detained at sea are sent back home. Haitian leaders in Miami have long complained that the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy maintains a double standard and is a reflection of racism against Haitians.
Haitian supporters also are calling on U.S. officials to temporarily relax immigration rules for Haitians in the United States because of recent hurricanes and ongoing political instability in the Caribbean nation. They say Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, has been granted to migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and other countries because they could not return home to face conditions similar to those in Haiti. Steven Forester, policy advocate for the Haitian Women of Miami, says Haitians deserve the same consideration.
"The fact of the matter is that it is the failure to grant TPS that actually encourages emigration. We want [Florida] Governor [Charlie] Crist to say to President Bush, for the sake of Florida's borders as well as her children, grant the Haitians TPS," he said.
President Bush has called for major changes to the nation's immigration policies in an effort to combat illegal immigration and human smuggling. He also backs a temporary worker program that would allow foreigners to perform U.S. jobs that would otherwise be unfilled.