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4 survivors of Haitian boat accident released

Florida residents may have heard about a group of Haitian citizens who were on a boat that sank eight miles off the shore of Miami on Oct. 16. Four of the 15 passengers on the 25-foot boat, all women, drowned when the boat sank. The 11 survivors were rescued by authorities and taken into custody by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

The boat's captain, crewman and four other individuals were charged with attempted smuggling and returning to the U.S. following deportation. Federal officials opened a criminal investigation to obtain more information on the incident.

Haitian activists pleaded with authorities to have the survivors released from custody or to release names so they could notify the survivors' families. These requests were denied. On Oct. 22, four of the remaining five passengers were released from federal custody. It is believed that they may be used as witnesses against the others. The final survivor was not Haitian; no additional information was released about that individual.

Since 2010, the U.S. has established a policy of not deporting Haitian nationals other than those with a criminal record. The individuals that were released do not qualify for Temporary Protected Status, which allows Haitians affected by the 2010 earthquake to live and work in the U.S. However, they may be able to seek asylum in order to stay in the country. These claims are difficult, but there are currently many Haitians pursuing asylum claims through the courts.

Seeking asylum can seem very scary to someone who doesn't know the language or the court system. A local attorney with experience in complex immigration issues may be able to help foreign nationals apply for status as a lawful United States resident and help them stay in the country.

Source: Miami Herald, "Haitian boat survivors released from immigration custody", Jacqueline Charles, October 22, 2013

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