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Gov. Bush Is Urged to Seek Release of Haitians

October 31, 2002|From Associated Press

MIAMI — A congresswoman pressed Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday to ask his brother the president to order the release of more than 200 Haitian immigrants detained in Florida after they jumped off a freighter and waded ashore.

The Republican governor was confronted during a campaign stop by Rep Carrie P. Meek (D-Fla.), who said the Haitians should be treated like Cuban immigrants.

"All you have to do is call -- the wet foot-dry foot policy would take effect," she said.

Normally, Cuban immigrants are allowed to remain in the U.S. if they reach land, while those intercepted at sea are returned.

The governor said he agrees that the Haitians should be released until their asylum requests have been heard, as with immigrants from other countries. "Haitians should be treated in the same fashion that Jamaicans, people from the Bahamas, people from any country in the world," Bush said.

A day earlier, the governor said he had called White House officials regarding the immigrants, but he did not elaborate Wednesday or say whether he had spoken with his brother.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that the Haitians were being treated fairly and humanely and that the president would not intervene.

The 50-foot wooden freighter carrying 211 Haitians and three Dominicans ran aground Tuesday near a causeway south of downtown Miami. Six Haitian nationals were charged with illegal smuggling. On Tuesday afternoon, authorities identified the Dominicans as being Cubans who were picked up off a raft. No Cubans were aboard the vessel.

The Haitian immigrants consisted of 150 men, 35 women and 26 juveniles, INS spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said. One of the minors was hospitalized for dehydration. Gonzalez declined to say whether any of the immigrants had asked for asylum.

Bill McBride, the Democratic nominee for governor, released a letter to President Bush asking him to order the Haitians' release.

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