102 Haitian Migrants Found At Sea
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
More than a hundred Haitian immigrants were found this week at sea on a rickety boat that was overcrowded and looked dangerous. The U.S. Coast Guard returned the Haitians to their country. Officials called the largest group of migrants intercepted at sea in more than a year. It happens at a time when the Trump administration has warned Haitian immigrants on temporary humanitarian visas in the United States that they must prepare to go back home. We're joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn, who covers Haiti. Carrie, thanks so much for being with us.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: You're welcome. Good morning.
SIMON: Tell us more about what this boat looked like and the human beings who were on it.
KAHN: It was a very tattered, rickety boat, as you said. It definitely didn't look sea worthy. The picture that was released by the Coast Guard showed the vessel just packed to the brim and riding very low in the water. It looked very much like the pictures we've seen for so long of refugees crossing the Mediterranean.
And there were 102 women and men on the boat. You could see that some had life jackets, many did not. The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted the boat just north of Haiti in Bahamian waters. And that's a really well-worn sea path to the U.S. All the Haitians were fed and returned to Cap-Haitien, which is Haiti's second largest city.
SIMON: Please tell us more about this boat and who was on it.
KAHN: The U.S. Coast Guard said this was their largest interdiction at sea this year. And it's a big jump in the number of Haitians that are crossing by sea. And they're fleeing because conditions in Haiti are miserable. Hurricane Matthew devastated a big swath of the southern tip of the island, what they call the breadbasket of the island last year, and it hasn't recuperated.
There were recently street protests over trying to raise the minimum wage in cities. Haitians make about $5 a day, and they say it's so low they can't survive. But companies told the government that if they're forced to raise the minimum wage, they'll leave. And this is the poorest nation in the hemisphere. And the situation is not getting better.
SIMON: I gather that Haitians had mostly been staying off the water over the last year. Why do you think they're going back now?
KAHN: That's a good question. And most of it is because the way Haitians were getting to the U.S. before was this really arduous and extremely dangerous land route. They would fly to Brazil or to Ecuador, and they traveled through South America, Central America, Mexico to the Southwest border. And that was the preferred way for a while. Many of those who made it to the U.S. land border were being let in on humanitarian reasons.
But last fall, when the numbers just kept getting larger and larger, then-President Obama shut that down. And President Trump stepped up deportations and rhetoric since then, have closed that path even more. And so this interdiction at sea has many worried that Haitians are now back to this dangerous sea route. And we'll have to see if the numbers keep climbing.
SIMON: Haitians have had special protection in the U.S. since that earthquake in 2010, but that program might end now. And what's the reaction in Haiti?
KAHN: Oh, people are devastated by that. And also the people in the U.S. because what we're talking about is this could affect up to 60,000 Haitians in the U.S. And that's caused a lot of anxiety in places in the U.S. where there are a large concentration of Haitian immigrants like South Florida, New York and New Jersey. They send a lot of money back home to Haiti. And without that money, that could throw even more Haitian families who have that lifeline into deeper poverty.
And the Trump administration says that they're thinking about ending this program as soon as January because they say the situation is improving in Haiti. But these latest numbers of Haitians, you know, once again, taking to the dangerous open seas, seems to point otherwise.
SIMON: NPR's Carrie Kahn. Thanks so much for being with us.
KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.