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Illegal Haitians Could Be in Trouble, Cubans Safe

Sept. 21, 2004 – One would think a person smuggling undocumented aliens onto an island would have an idea about how to land on that island. However, the running aground of the sailing vessel The Flash on Monday morning appears to be the second time within months when would-be smugglers of humans did not have a clue about reefs they needed to negotiate. (See "Illegals Run Aground in Christiansted Harbor").
The Flash hit and stuck on a reef off Jack's Bay.
Sgt. Thomas Hannah, spokesman for the V.I. Police Department, laughed when the poor navigational skills of the smugglers were pointed out. "That is the way it is on these islands," he said.
Although 11 Haitians, a native of Saint Vincent, and a native of Dominica might find themselves in trouble because of their misdirected entry effort into the United States, it might work out better for two Cubans aboard The Flash, Hannah said.
Different laws apply to Cubans. In this case, he said it was his understanding that what he called the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy would take precedence. This policy states that a Cuban caught in off-shore waters will be sent back to Cuba, but one who makes it to land may be allowed to remain in the United States, he said.
In this case, two Cubans made it ashore and later turned themselves into police in Christiansted.
Sean Buchanan, a congressional aid specializing in immigration affairs, supported Hannah's statement with a policy statement that covers Cuba and Haiti. (See "Caribbean Issues for the 108th Congress").
"The Haitians don't have to be sent back. They can apply for asylum, but without attorneys and proper procedure they probably won't get it. The officers at the borders aren't trained in the rights of asylum seekers and usually just treat them like illegal immigrants," Buchanan said.
Hannah added that the same day these undocumented aliens were picked up on St. Croix; another eight were apprehended on St. John. He said their boat had been located. He said those apprehended on St. John were charged with illegal entry and turned over to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Daily News reported those eight were Haitians. Some reports conjecture that the two groups were part of the same organization,
Hannah said authorities on St. Croix were notified about strangers in the Grapetree area around 8 p.m. He estimated that the boat had run aground around 7 or 7:30 a.m. He said the roundup was a joint effort of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, officers of the V.I. Police Department, Department of Planning and Natural Resources officers and the V.I. Marine Unit on the Blue Lightning. He added that he hoped the V.I. government could benefit from confiscation of the boat Flash.
The last suspects were taken into custody by about 3 p.m.
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