MIAMI — U.S. Coast Guard vessels headed to Haiti today with 209 Haitians picked up at sea since the fall of the Duvalier regime, a spokeswoman said.
The State Department approved the Haitians' return to the Caribbean nation after Immigration and Naturalization Service officers interviewed the would-be refugees and concluded that they did not qualify for political asylum in the United States, officials said.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Brenda Toledo said the cutter Tampa had 177 Haitians aboard today, and the rest were on the cutter Courageous.
The cutters were heading for a rendezvous with the Seaward Explorer, a privately owned, 110-foot offshore work boat often used by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard for contract work, she said. The Seaward Explorer will ferry the Haitians into the capital of Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, she said.
The Coast Guard has returned more than 7,000 Haitians since the Reagan Administration began its interdiction program in October, 1981. Under the agreement signed by President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier, who fled the nation Friday, Coast Guard cutters patrol waters off Haiti and intercept any U.S.-bound refugee boats.