Haitian migrants endure three-week ordeal at sea; Southeast Florida bishop pledges support

April 1, 2007

Bishop Leo Frade of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida pledged March 31 to help resettle the 101 Haitian migrants who survived a three-week ordeal at sea to reach the shores of South Florida last week.

Jumping from a severely overloaded, dilapidated boat into the sea, many of the Haitians, including a 10-year-old and several teenagers, were exhausted and sick. One man died in the attempt. Eleven, found to be critically dehydrated, were taken to a hospital. All were taken into custody by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Miami and are expected to be deported.

"They were escaping misery and chaos in search of freedom and security," said Frade. "They were in search of a home where they could live with human beings, work to provide for their families and assist those relatives that they left behind in Haiti."

Last year, 769 Haitians were stopped by the Coast Guard after trying to enter the country from the waters of Florida, South Carolina and the Caribbean, according to the Associated Press. Haitian citizens caught in such patrols are generally deported.

Frade called for President Bush to grant temporary protected status to the undocumented Haitians "until the United States of America and other willing nations can help to bring minimal conditions of security to their homeland."

In a statement released to the press, Frade declared: "Only by eliminating the instability, lawlessness, life-threatening poverty and lack of jobs in Haiti can we eliminate the need for desperate individuals and families from that country to risk trying to reach our shores under conditions such as we saw this week."

Protestors took to the streets of Miami on March 31 to rally against the migrants' possible deportation.

The Diocese of Southeast Florida includes seven Haitian congregations. "Together with them I pledge ... that we will do all in our power to assist in any effort to resettle these persons if they are granted refugee status," said Frade.