Posted on: Wednesday, 28 March 2007, 18:00 CDT

More Than 100 Haitian Migrants Make Desperate Landing in Florida

More than 100 famished Haitian migrants slogged through waves and staggered ashore Wednesday after their flimsy wooden sailboat ran aground on Hallandale Beach, Fla..

One man didn't make it, washing up dead on the sand. A second, naked and shivering in the fetal position as he clung to a shipboard rope, had to be pried loose by paramedics, who carried him to the beach on a stretcher. One 10-year-old boy was aboard.

"You could tell that a lot of them didn't know how to swim. They were terrified. You could see it in their eyes," said Danny Nassi, who lives in a condo on the beach.

The Haitians told authorities they had spent 22 days aboard a 40-foot smuggling vessel. They told one witness that they ran out of food after 10 days _ then resorted to eating toothpaste and drinking salt water.

The boat left the northern coast of Haiti _ either from Port-de-Paix or the island of La Tortue, some of the migrants told people who assisted them on arrival.

It landed near Hallandale Beach Boulevard, behind a row of high-rise condos and hotels, including the recently rebuilt Westin Diplomat, which dominates the shoreline. A crowd of hotel guests and condo dwellers quickly gathered. Residents with binoculars stared down from their balconies.

And several news choppers hovered overhead, broadcasting the scene into an untold number of living rooms.

Haitian community activists, meanwhile, from Pembroke Pines to Miami renewed demands 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 press for the migrants' release, proper medical attention, and due process.

"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."

Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, temporarily suspends deportations and enables recipients to get work permits.

Rep. Kendrick B. Meek, D-Fla., immediately wrote letters to Julie Myers, the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and to Michael Rozos, the agency's field office director in Florida, asking that the Haitian migrants not be sent to detention centers outside South Florida.

The migrants were traveling aboard an old-fashioned sailing ship. The sail was tattered and the 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."

Many of the passengers were bruised and scraped from riding in the crowded conditions.

Before the sailboat reached the shore, a few of the passengers jumped into the water and swam several hundred yards to shore. A local lifeguard waded in to help.

The passengers who remained onboard crowded the ship's deck and watched _ until the sailboat ran aground about a half-hour later. That unleashed a mad scramble through waist-deep water.

One teenage passenger flailed his arms in the water until an older passenger who had made it to shore came back to assist him, witnesses said.

At that point, local police, fire rescue and Coast Guard personnel arrived. Ambulances rushed to the beach to provide emergency medical care.

"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 103 migrants to a nearby firehouse. The migrants were given food and water, said Andrew Casper, a department spokesman. Dozens of migrants, many draped in white blankets, a few in camouflage, crowded into the firetruck bay.

"Some of them needed medication," recalled Kenol Obnis, a waiter from the Diplomat who rushed to the station house after he saw the boat from a forth-floor window. "Some of them looked very, very bad."

Obnis said some of the migrants had bruises on their backs.

Also helping at the firehouse was North Miami Councilwoman Marie Erlande Steril. The Haiti native saw the dramatic landing from her bedroom TV set. So she dashed to help.

`They were afraid, trembling and crying, `Are they going to send me back?'" said Steril, who said she helped interview in the firehouse. "They were complaining about how much they risked their lives."

While there, Steril helped Jean Monestime, whose older half-brother was a delivery driver in Hallandale Beach. Steril let Monestime dial his half-brother on her cellphone. The two hadn't seen since each other since a 2001 trip to Port-de-Paix.

`He told me, `He's here, he didn't die,'" Ricardo Francois, 43, said outside the firehouse, waiting to see his half-brother. "I don't know what they're going to do to him."

Eleven were taken to the hospital _ seven men and four women. Three were listed in serious condition. Others were dehydrated and weak from hunger, police said.

The remaining 90 were being interviewed by Border Patrol officials.

Shortly after 11 a.m., police and paramedics escorted the 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.

Every year, Haitians risk their lives _ and disappear _ by boarding leaky boats in a desperate attempt to reach the Bahamas or South Florida for jobs and opportunities.

Sometimes they reach their destination, undetected by U.S. coastal patrols.

In 2002, television networks captured the live landing of 220 Haitians scrambling onto Miami's Rickenbacker Causeway. The next year, almost two dozen Haitians came ashore in Palm Beach County.

That Haitians usually get sent back to Haiti is a constant bone of contention among Haitian leaders. A U.S. policy informally known as "Wet Foot Dry Foot" allows Cuban migrants to stay if they reach U.S. soil. Haitian migrants are sent back home.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was briefed on the migrants' arrival Wednesday morning, called their landing a "difficult situation."

"As the grandson of an immigrant, I appreciate people's yearning for freedom and a better opportunity for themselves and their family," Crist said. "But we have a federal policy that's a little bit different than that."


(Miami Herald staff writers Erika Bolstad and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.)


(c) 2007, The Miami Herald.

"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."
So what? messico has no rule of law either. Only difference between these illegal aliens from Haiti and those from messico is they took a boat to get here. Makes no damn difference to me. Also, quit with the use of this "MIGRANT" crappola! They are illegal aliens, DEPORT THEM ALL.