Six people were charged today with trying to illegally bring more than 200 Haitians into the country aboard a rickety freighter. Activists, meanwhile, urged Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) to prevent authorities from deporting the Haitians, who jumped overboard and dashed into a roadway to flag down cars.
The Haitians swam ashore near downtown Miami after their freighter ran aground Tuesday, eight days after they left their impoverished island seeking a better life. Twenty-one were rescued after jumping into water 10 to 12 feet deep and becoming too fatigued to make it to shore, Coast Guard Lt. Jeffrey Smith said. Border Patrol agents rounded up 208 others, including young children.
Authorities identified those arrested as Edner Dorvil, 52, the owner of the vessel who they say coordinated the voyage; boat operators Jean Phillip Petite-Homme, 45, Sali Atlanase Jean, 37, and Eli Louis, 29; mechanic Jean Eddy Louis, 19, and security worker Genel Elmeus Osmin, 37.
Unlike Cubans who reach dry land, Haitian immigrants usually are denied asylum in the United States and sent back home.
Rep. Carrie P. Meek (D-Fla.) today demanded that Bush call his brother, the president, and persuade him to treat the Haitians like Cuban refugees. "Those Haitians are standing on dry land. . . . You can do it," Meek told the governor, who is running for re-election.
Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, said the president would not get involved despite any political pressure that may arise.
Gov. Bush told Meek he agrees the Haitians should be released until their asylum request is heard. He had said earlier that he spoke to White House officials and was assured the Haitians would receive "fair and decent treatment."
"There should be equal treatment and that's my position," he said.
"If Bush could champion the issue, he could shift the balance in the election," said Jean Robert Lafortune, president of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. "The time for lip service is over."
Thousands of Haitians each year risk dangerous voyages aboard rickety, crowded boats to flee the crushing poverty in their homeland, where most people survive on less than $1 a day.