The Dog That Did Not Bark (Much) - Illegal Migration from Haiti

By David North on August 9, 2010

One of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries centered on the detective's noticing that a dog that might have been expected to bark did not do so.

I am beginning to wonder why there has been so little detected illegal migration from Haiti after the earthquake. Are we getting the whole picture?

As one who had to spend three terribly depressing days in Haiti once, a decision to leave that country, legally or illegally, certainly strikes me as a rational one. But if news reports are to be believed there has been little illicit emigration.

But there has been some, notably recently. On August 2 the Coast Guard reported rescuing 323 would-be illegal migrants at sea, and five days later it reported picking up another 230, for a total of 553 in less than a week. A Coast Guard report regarding the second mission said that in the fiscal year starting October 1, 2009, it had interdicted 1,550 Haitians. It did not make the point that a third of them had been encountered in the past five days.

At about the same as the mass interceptions at sea, the AP reported that a dozen "Haitian immigrants" had arrived on the beach at Manalapan, about ten miles south of West Palm Beach; seven were being processed by the Border Patrol, and the other five apparently got away. What will happen to the seven was not described.

So there have been at least three governmental sightings of these illegal migrants in a period of five days.

In both cases involving the Coast Guard, that organization described the vessels carrying the Haitians as "grossly overloaded," and as "sail freighters," suggesting a low-tech means of transportation. When the Coast Guard captures people at sea, they take them back to Cap Haitien, a city on Haiti's north coast, a place that always has been a shade more prosperous than the capital of Port-au-Prince, and one that was not involved in the quake.

As I looked over the internet for these reports, I found one for April 27, 2004, which said that the Coast Guard had rescued 1,591 Haitians in a period of two months, so the interceptions in this fiscal year have been at a much lower level.

A couple of weeks ago I was at one of those Washington briefings on the reconstruction of Haiti, with all the usual suspects gathered at in a big conference room – a deputy assistant secretary, an American general, an AID official, someone from the European Union . . . you get the picture. I asked why there had been so little reported out-migration from Haiti, and was told, "People leave Haiti for political reasons at the time of governmental instability, but not at the time of natural disasters."

I had trouble believing that.

Are more people leaving the islands, and is our government not stopping them? Are there simply fewer departures? Are the migrants heading somewhere other than to the Bahamas and Florida, where the Coast Guard prowls? Have the Haitians simply run out of boats?

It remains a mystery.