Haitians Boat People Unstoppable!! Defeating a billion dollars Homeland Security System
How could Haitians' landing happen?
BY ALFONSO CHARDY, Miami Herald
How could 102 Haitians crammed on a 40-foot wooden boat sail hundreds of miles for 22 days without the U.S. Coast Guard having a clue until the desperate migrants' chaotic landing at Hallandale Beach? That question was paramount in many people's minds Wednesday -- particularly because the landing came exactly three weeks after Operation Vigilant Sentry, a mock exercise to prevent an unexpected influx of immigrants from Cuba, Haiti or any other Caribbean hot spot to Florida's porous shores.
Rear Adm. David W. Kunkel, head of the Coast Guard in Miami and leader of the Homeland Security exercise, said then that the U.S. government's goal is to block 95 percent of those trying to enter the country. But Wednesday, as TV crews in helicopters captured the emotional scene of dozens of people jumping into the water to reach U.S. shores, the Coast Guard appeared to have failed its first big test.
A 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office found that a $24 billion program to modernize the Coast Guard's deep-water vessels has suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns and shoddy work by contractors. And the GAO and some members of Congress who track Coast Guard operations have been warning for months that U.S. border protection has been compromised as other missions have multiplied or taken precedence.
''The upshot of all this is that we're beginning to see significant flows of both drugs and human beings back into South Florida,'' said Bruce Bagley, professor and chair of the department of international studies at the University of Miami. Bagley has been monitoring Coast Guard operations for years.
Coast Guard officials maintain that the recent removal of eight Key West-based cutters for repairs and the deployment of at least two vessels from South Florida to Iraq have not adversely affected the Coast Guard's mission, which spans 1.8 million square miles from the South Carolina coast to the Caribbean. Coast Guard spokesman Dana Warr said that the agency still has enough vessels to meet operational demands and that the district here often deploys cutters and aircraft from other areas to cover temporary needs.
''Our district is so busy that our assets come from other parts of the country,'' Warr said. ``We have cutters from Boston; Maine; Portsmouth, Va., and North Carolina deployed in the Caribbean for months at a time.''
In December, Coast Guard Cmdr. Thad Allen took eight of 10 Key West-based cutters off duty because of structural problems.
The deployment of six Coast Guard vessels -- at least two from South Florida -- to Iraq also has raised questions about the Coast Guard's efficiency and ability to deal with a massive exodus of migrants. Warr said he is prohibited from revealing precisely how many cutters and aircraft are operating along South Florida shores and in the region's three key migrant routes: the Florida Straits and the sea passages between Haiti and Cuba and between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
The Coast Guard has about 40 cutters and 40 aircraft in the district, out of a fleet of more than 200 cutters and almost 200 aircraft, Warr said. Even redeploying the entire fleet to the district that includes South Florida would not be enough to stop all migrant boats, Warr said.
''We can't cover all of it all the time,'' he said. In the mass-migration simulation, Coast Guard officials said that in a real exodus, some would make it ashore.
Whether Wednesday's 102 migrants sailed the 700-plus miles from Haiti was not known for sure, although initial evidence indicated that they may have come from either Port-de-Paix or La Tortue island off Haiti's northwest coast.
One aboard died, marking the third time this month that authorities have reported migrants dying at sea while trying to leave Haiti. On March 1, the Coast Guard reported that eight dead Haitians and two survivors -- badly burned and dehydrated -- had been found near the Dominican Republic. They were among 54 Haitians aboard a ship that had burned and sunk. The 44 others were presumed dead.
A week later, 10 more Haitians were found dead at sea near Exuma in the Bahamas after trying to enter that country illegally. Seventeen others were arrested by Bahamian police.
A desperate landing, a plea for compassion
BY TRENTON DANIEL AND KATHLEEN McGRORY
On Day 10, they ran out of food.
The 102 Haitians -- many bruised and scraped from the crowded conditions aboard their flimsy 40-foot sailboat -- endured their perilous journey for 12 more days with toothpaste and saltwater, all anyone had.
The famished migrants, 12 children among them, spotted the pre-dawn glint of Hallandale Beach's high-rise condos on Wednesday. As the boat lurched closer to land, some jumped off, sloshing through waves and staggering ashore.
'They were afraid, trembling and crying, `Are they going to send me back?' '' said Marie Erlande Steril, a North Miami councilwoman who said she helped interview migrants at a nearby fire station after they made it to shore. ``They were complaining about how much they risked their lives.''
Indeed, one man didn't make it, washing up dead on the sand. Paramedics pried a second loose from a shipboard rope and carried him to the beach on a stretcher.
The migrants told authorities they had spent 22 days aboard the vessel. Their landing spurred local Haitian leaders to protest what they say is unfair treatment of Haitian migrants, who typically are returned to their impoverished homeland.
The boat, with a tiny dinghy attached, left the northern coast of Haiti more than three weeks ago -- possibly from Port-de-Paix but most likely the island of La Tortue, officials said.
It landed around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday near Hallandale Beach Boulevard, behind a row of high-rise condos and hotels including the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, which dominates the shoreline in nearby Hollywood.
A crowd of hotel guests and condo dwellers quickly gathered. Wielding binoculars, some stared down from balconies.
News choppers hovered overhead, broadcasting the scene into living rooms in a live reminder of 2002, when 220 Haitians splashed onto Miami's Rickenbacker Causeway.
Unlike some other immigrants, Haitians are not eligible for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which temporarily suspends deportations and enables recipients to get work permits.
Haitian community activists from Pembroke Pines to Miami on Wednesday renewed their demand that the Bush administration grant undocumented Haitian migrants temporary immigration status so they can avoid deportation.
In Little Haiti, about a dozen Haitian leaders gathered Wednesday afternoon to decry the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, which requires most migrants picked up at sea to be repatriated, But the policy allows Cubans who make it to land apply for residency. Others often are sent back.
''It's unsafe and unfair to send any Haitians back to their country,'' said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami. ``There is no rule of law to speak of.''
No decision has been made on where Wednesday's migrants will be detained, said Barbara Gonzalez, a Miami spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She noted they could be housed anywhere in the country.
U.S. Rep. Kendrick B. Meek wrote letters to Julie Myers, the head of ICE, and to Michael Rozos, the agency's field office director in Florida, asking that the migrants not be sent to detention centers outside South Florida.
Early Wednesday's scene was one of desperation and drama.
The boat was run-down, with its sail tattered and its blue and white paint chipped.
''The vessel was obviously unseaworthy and grossly overloaded,'' said Coast Guard Petty Officer Jennifer Johnson. ``Nobody should have embarked on a voyage of that length on a vessel like that.''
Before the sailboat reached land, a few passengers jumped into the water and swam several hundred yards to shore. A local lifeguard waded in to help.
Those who remained onboard crowded the deck and watched -- until the sailboat ran aground about half an hour later. That unleashed a mad scramble through waist-deep water.
At that point, police, fire rescue and Coast Guard personnel arrived. Ambulances rushed in.
''It was intense,'' said Hugo Paez, who ran down to the beach with his camera. ``You could tell they really wanted to come to this country.''
All told, Hallandale Beach Fire Rescue ushered 101 migrants to a firehouse at Hallandale Beach Boulevard and State Road A1A; the man who died was covered with a maroon blanket and taken away on a stretcher. The survivors were given food and water, said Andrew Casper, a police spokesman.
Dozens of migrants, many draped in white blankets, a few in camouflage, crowded into the firetruck bay.
IN POOR CONDITION
''Some of them looked very, very bad,'' said Kenol Obnis, a Diplomat hotel waiter who rushed to the firehouse after he saw the boat from a fourth-floor window. Bruises marked the backs of some, he said.
Steril, the North Miami councilwoman and a native of Haiti, also pitched in at the firehouse after seeing the dramatic landing at home on TV.
Steril's cellphone enabled migrant Jean Monestime to call his half-brother Ricardo Francois, a Hollywood delivery driver. The brothers had not seen each other since Francois made a 2001 trip to Port-de-Paix.
''He told me he's here, he didn't die,'' Francois, 43, said outside the firehouse, waiting to catch a glimpse of his sibling. ``I don't know what they're going to do to him.''
Seven men and four women were taken to the hospital, with three listed in serious condition. Others were dehydrated and weak from hunger, police said.
Police and paramedics later escorted the remaining migrants onto large passenger buses, some bearing U.S. Department of Homeland Security insignias. The migrants were taken to the Border Patrol facility in Pembroke Pines.
Not all boarded the bus.
Police officers were seen isolating one man, taking him to an underground parking garage.
''Sa ou gen?!'' Obnis yelled in Creole, meaning, ``What's the matter?!'' The man didn't respond and vanished into the garage.
Onlookers suspected the man may have been singled out as the ship's captain, but a Border Patrol spokesman said authorities had not found that person.
''I do not believe the captain has been positively identified,'' said Victor Colón, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Click on this link for audio interview with Miami councilwoman Marie Erlande Steril, video images etc. Please don't forget to give your comments, french, kreyol, english, are welcome.
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