30 Haitians in Fla. without visas are freed

Associated Press / April 2, 2010

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MIAMI — More than 30 Haitians who boarded US-bound planes without paperwork in frenzied evacuations after the earthquake were freed from immigration detention centers yesterday after spending about two months behind bars, attorneys for the Haitians said.

Some of the Haitians said they boarded US military planes because they were hungry or simply desperate to escape the epic humanitarian crisis. US immigration officials warned Haitians that they might be detained if they entered the country illegally, yet the country also suspended deportations after the Jan. 12 quake.

“We knew these Haitians were not about to be deported because of our government’s policy. They didn’t have criminal histories. They had suffered terribly. We just couldn’t figure out why they weren’t being released,’’ said Cheryl Little, executive director of Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, which worked for the Haitians’ release.

A total of 65 Haitians had been detained in Florida and other states, said Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. It is not immediately clear what will happen to the rest of the detainees.

The survivors’ accounts reflect the chaos at the Port-au-Prince airport soon after the earthquake. By the end of February, US Customs and Border Protection processed more than 31,000 people evacuated from Haiti, including roughly 7,200 foreign nationals. About 1,100 received humanitarian parole, while others received tourist visas.