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17080: (Hermantin)SUn-Sentinel-One passenger and her family build a new life; another w (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
One passenger and her family build a new life; another waits in detention.
By Tanya Weinberg
October 29, 2003
She had no food, no water, no idea where she was headed when she crowded
onto the boat about to leave from Cap Haitien. On board were her mother, her
younger brothers, and her toddler daughter. She carried an unborn child but
no second thoughts of taking to the open sea.
"I had to take the boat," said Murielle Dieudonne, 22. "If something
happened, something happened. Because, if we stay in Haiti, it was more
For several days she drank only seawater. Her throat burned and her heart
ached. The baby inside her was still.
"I felt she was dead," said Dieudonne, who now lives in Lauderdale Lakes.
Nestled in her lap as she spoke was her daughter, Mynervelee Petit-Do, the
first U.S. citizen born to one of 214 passengers to reach Miami on Oct. 29,
2002. The little girl with searching eyes sucked on three little fingers and
reached up to her mother's hair as Dieudonne recalled her year in South
One year after the nation watched widely televised images of men, women, and
children flinging themselves into Biscayne Bay and dashing down the
Rickenbacker Causeway, the passengers' paths have diverged. Some, like
Dieudonne, are building new lives. Others, like a mentally and physically
deteriorated Rochenel Charles, 55, have spent the year in detention. The two
are at extremes of how the Bush administration has handled Haitian boat
refugees in a stated push to use detention to discourage mass migration from
Because Dieudonne was pregnant, immigration officials released her and her
older daughter, Burvelee Petit-Do, after two weeks. Dieudonne's mother and
three brothers remained in federal custody three months more. The six are
among 52 passengers from the Oct. 29 boat who have received political
asylum. Nineteen people were returned to Haiti before coming to shore. Of
those who made it, more than half -- 110 -- have been deported, six are
serving time on federal smuggling charges in connection with this case, and
10 continue to appeal their cases from detention.
Charles is among those asking to be heard again. In February the farmer won
asylum from an immigration judge who found his story of political violence
against his family credible. He testified the threats sent him into a
hardscrabble life in hiding for six years, sneaking visits with and support
to his nine children when he could.
But the federal Department of Homeland Security, which now oversees
immigration, kept him at the Krome detention center while appealing the
Charles' plight left him so distraught, he said, he fell into depression
and, at times, could not stop crying. An independent psychologist diagnosed
Charles with post-traumatic stress disorder. A Krome counselor suggested he
seek relief from depression in the voluntary work program, Charles said.
For $1 Charles helped clean the cafeteria and mop the floor for two hours
each day. A few months ago, while unloading a truck, he fell off the back.
The accident left him in pain so severe, he couldn't walk, Charles said. He
was given crutches, then a wheelchair. His attorneys tried unsuccessfully to
get an independent physician to see him and to learn the Krome doctor's
diagnosis. A request for an MRI was denied.
After the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the government's appeal,
officials took the wheelchair away and ordered Charles deported to Haiti.
Other detainees helped him to the airport van the day he was to be deported.
Charles said he begged the officers not to send him home.
"I felt frightened, because I couldn't walk and I had no one who could help
me in Port-au-Prince ... when I got off the airplane," Charles told his
attorney's interpreter in response to written questions from the South
The Department of Homeland Security denied repeated requests to interview
and photograph Charles.
But just before he was to be deported, his attorney, Candace Jean of
Catholic Charities Legal Services, got a last-minute stay. The appeals board
agreed to review new evidence in his case. Since then, officials took
Charles to a hospital for a complete neurological exam and a physical
therapy consultation that both came back "negative," said Immigration and
Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Ana Santiago.
So far, the government has spent about $26,600 to detain Charles, whose
brother is a U.S. citizen willing to sponsor his release. That was a common
practice before the Bush administration quietly introduced the mandatory
detention policy in late 2001. Only humanitarian cases, such as pregnant
women, and unaccompanied children are generally released.
"The policy is in place, and it is working," said Bill Strassberger, a
spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. "We haven't seen any
major migration from Haiti, because of people getting the false hope that
they'll be allowed to stay."
Mass migration has not occurred since 1994, when the U.S. Coast Guard
intercepted 25,000 Haitians. Under the new detention policy, the number of
intercepted refugees has increased from about 1,500 to about 2,000 during
the past two years.
In overruling the immigration courts' granting of bond to passengers from
the Oct. 29 boat, Attorney General John Ashcroft reiterated Homeland
Security arguments that maritime migration threatens national security by
diverting Coast Guard resources and bringing undocumented immigrants to U.S.
shores. He also cited a risk of Pakistanis or Palestinians using Haiti as a
staging ground to immigrate. However, "there's no indication that that's
happening," Strassberger said.
After the Oct. 29 boat landing caused an uproar over the Haitian detention
policy, President Bush announced that it would be expanded to all refugees
arriving by boat, except Cubans, who usually are released within a few days
of arrival and become eligible for residency after one year.
Dieudonne had to wait three months for her mother and brothers to win asylum
before they could be together.
In South Florida, Dieudonne has been astonished by 24-hour-a-day electricity
and is enamored of shopping malls that offer a seemingly endless variety of
shops and goods. Her mother has a job cleaning at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood
International Airport. Her brothers Guslin, 14, and Muphtilin, 11, tuck
their shirts in and study hard at Lauderdale Lakes Middle School. The
eldest, Frantz, 18, attends full-time high school classes at Whiddon-Rogers
Education Center and works 35 hours a week in a change-machine factory. He
says he loves the United States, because if anything goes wrong, he can call
the police and they will help.
But since coming to shore, he's only been to the beach once.
"I'm scared to approach the sea," he said. "I imagine where I came from. It
was very dangerous, and every day I thank God."
Tanya Weinberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-810-5029.
Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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