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Coast Guard intercepts 146 Haitians at sea. But 90 more made it to the Turks and Caicos

Aerial photo of the new National Security Cutter Bertholf taken from an HH-65C helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles off the California Coast Tuesday, July 22, 2008. (US Coast Guard Photo by Chief Warrant Officer Brian Carlton)

One Haitian freighter arrived in the Turks and Caicos on Saturday, ferrying at least 26 men and 11 women. Then on Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted another freighter at sea, this time with 146 people on board, including several children.

And on Monday, a third boat made landfall in the Turks and Caicos with 53 migrants aboard.

The unusual surge of 236 migrants coming from Haiti in recent days created enough alarm that the Turks and Caicos minister of immigration is threatening to shut down legal migration from Haiti to his British Overseas Territory.

“Enough is enough,” Immigration Minister Vaden Delroy Williams said Wednesday, noting that it may be time to consider “stopping the first-time work permits for Haitian nationals if this continues.”

“While I understand what’s going on in Haiti and what the Haitian people are experiencing there, we must protect the Turks and Caicos Islands for future generations.”

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The territory, located 137 miles from Haiti’s north coast and 372 miles from Miami, has become a popular stepping stone for desperate Haitians trying to flee their nation’s economic and political turmoil. It is also one of the few islands in the Caribbean that offers legal migration from Haiti through a work-permit process.

Williams called on Haitian nationals living in the Turks and Caicos to discourage their families and friends from seeking entry by illegal vessels.

“This process will not work for you,” he said, directing his comments at Haitians illegally migrating. “If this continues, you will never be able to work or live peacefully or to become legal. We will find you, deport you and place you on the Stop List, so you will never be able to enter the TCI ever again. We will no longer allow individuals who break the law to come into these islands to become legal residents.”

On Wednesday, Williams said there are 119 individuals being housed in the islands’ detention center in Providenciales, the country’s main tourist hub. The center has a maximum capacity of 165 people. At least 90 of the individuals — all Haitians — arrived over the weekend after Turks and Caicos immigration and police officers discovered two wooden Haitian sloops, approximately 30 feet long each.

The first vessel arrived Saturday morning, and landed within the Malcolm Beach area of Providenciales. After a search of the area, officials found 37 Haitians, including 11 females.

Two days later on Monday, another vessel transporting 53 Haitians, including 12 females and a child, was intercepted by the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Marine Branch.

But that’s not all.

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On Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that it, too, had picked up Haitian migrants at sea: 146 of them traveling in a 40-foot sail freighter.

The Coast Guard said its William Trump cutter intercepted the boat with 120 men, 22 women and four children aboard on Sunday, about 69 miles north of Ile de la Tortue on Haiti’s northwest coast. The Trump (named after a World War II veteran and no relation to President Donald Trump) loaded the migrants onto the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute, which then took them back to Haiti on Tuesday.

That’s at least 236 Haitians who have attempted to flee their politically volatile nation in three days.

“A strong message has to be sent to the Haitian immigrants who are coming here and to those who are helping them to come here and stay here,” said Williams.

He said he plans to meet with immigration enforcement officials and police so they can figure out how to find Haitians who illegally entered the island chain and were not apprehended.

“We simply cannot allow them to come here illegally, live here illegally and work here illegally. We have to find them and deal with them,” he said in a statement.

While the U.S. Coast Guard has returned its boatload of migrants, those apprehended in the Turks and Caicos remain in custody and will be repatriated back to Haiti.

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© 2019 Miami Herald