While the DREAM Act Dominates the Scene, a Bit of Haitian Action Elsewhere

By David North on December 10, 2010

While the DREAM Act has been the focus of the immigration field this week, I continue to keep my eye open for the strange sideshow in the Caribbean, the usually quiet, the dog-does-not-bark, story of illegal immigration from Haiti.

Given the cholera threat, on top of the misery of the sluggish recovery from the earthquake, adding to the pervasive poverty of that nation, and the very sizable Haitian communities in the U.S. – why are we not seeing numerous attempts to enter the U.S. illegally?

But there is some activity, though there has been near-zero media attention and little light cast on the matter by the Coast Guard.

The latest recorded illegal entry attempt was dramatic; it involved danger and death, and the law enforcement resources of three nations. It also involved an unusual route.

Haiti faces west, and most of the overladen boats with illegal migrants head around Cuba and through the Bahamas, toward Florida – but not the most recent one.

The latest boat and/or its occupants must have taken a different route; it or they apparently sailed east, around the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico toward the shared French/Dutch island of St. Martin/St. Maarten; from there it apparently reversed course and headed west. According to a Coast Guard press release: "A Dutch Dash-8 aircraft crew initially detected the vessel with more than 30 people aboard Sunday night [Dec. 6] traveling at a high rate of speed on a course from ... St. Maarten to the Virgin Islands."

The boat then ran aground Monday night on a reef "near the outer entrance of Paraquita Bay in Tortola, British Virgin Islands."

Despite the efforts of BVI "Drug Squad Marine units" and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Reef Shark, five bodies of three adults and two children were found together with 28 survivors, half of whom were rescued by the BVI entities, and half by the Coast Guard.

While the Coast Guard issued a press release on this activity, and had 14 survivors to interview, the official statement said: "The original departure point of the vessel and the nationality of the migrants remains under investigation."


Meanwhile the only press coverage of the event that I have seen was in the St. Thomas Source, a virtual newspaper in the U.S. Virgin Islands for which I write an occasional article. The Source, however, identified those rescued as "illegal immigrants from Haiti."

Another odd element in the story is the description of the ship as a fast vessel; Coast Guard press releases, as you might expect from a maritime entity, always describe the ships they encounter in rescue and law enforcement operations. Typically, when they pick up Haitians, they had been in a "sail freighter" or some other overloaded and often primitive vessel. In this case the migrants, perhaps well-to-do ones, had found a different kind of vessel, but an unlucky one.

Yet another oddity, were the two bodies found on the vessel, not in the water. According to the Source:

"The Reef Shark attempted to get close to the vessel, but was able to come only within a mile before the boat hit the reef. Most passengers were thrown into the water, but a B.V.I. official has said that two bodies were found in the boat."

The information above was not included in the Coast Guard press release, but must have been obtained by the Source reporter, Lynda Lohr, from an informant, perhaps in the BVI.

Is the Coast Guard telling us everything they know about this?