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Six charged in smuggling of Haitians

Florida governor urges fair treatment

Five of six men accused by the federal government of alien smuggling make their first appearance in court.

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Protesters demonstrated in Miami over a U.S. immigration policy that they say treats undocumented Cuban and Haitian refugees differently. CNN's Susan Candiotti reports (October 31)
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More than 200 Haitians jumped from a boat near Key Biscayne, Florida, swimming to shore and swarming the highway leading into Miami. CNN's Mark Potter reports (October 30)
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Six men were charged with smuggling Wednesday after bringing a boat brimming with more than 200 Haitians to the Florida coast where people jumped overboard and swam or waded ashore.

The six men -- including the captain of the ship, Edner Dorvil, who also is believed to have been the organizer of the trip -- appeared in federal magistrate court and were appointed public defenders for their next hearing, which will be held Friday.

Three crew members, a mechanic and a security guard on the ship were the others charged in the case. Five other Haitians onboard the ship were set aside as material witnesses.

"These charges are consistent with this office's longstanding commitment to prosecute those engaged in schemes to smuggle migrants into the United States," said Marcos Daniel Jimenez, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, in a statement.

"Alien smuggling not only violates the laws of this country but it is well-known that it endangers and has cost many lives," he said.

In the affidavit, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said there were as many as 220 Haitians onboard the 50-foot wooden vessel. Most of them were taken into custody by local police Tuesday after they came ashore and began walking across the Rickenbacker Causeway, which leads into Miami.

Some of the group managed to get rides from motorists and escaped into the city.

Those detained were taken to the Krome Detention Center, where they're still being processed. A few were hospitalized, and about 20 remained on a Coast Guard cutter.

The INS affidavit said planning for the migrants' trip began last December.

"The migrants contributed monies and other goods and services to prepare the vessel for the voyage," the court documents read.

The ship left "Shu Shu Bay" in Haiti October 24 carrying 200 people, the affidavit said, and stopped the next day at "La Tori," Haiti to pick up food, fuel, and 20 more passengers. The boat made the voyage to the Florida coast in four days.

Its arrival was captured on videotape by local news helicopters and showed people streaming over the sides of the ship when it ran aground near Key Biscayne.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said illegal migration by sea "is dangerous and the perils are real."

"We call upon anyone who is considering similar attempts to come to the United States in this manner to reject this hazardous voyage," he said in a statement. "These types of voyages are unlikely to succeed and could result in tragic loss of life."

Refugees and politics

Unlike Cubans, who are automatically granted asylum in the United States if they reach shore due to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act -- also known as the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Haitians and other migrants must apply for political asylum.

If they pass a "credible fear" interview, showing that they have reason to believe they would be persecuted in their homeland, they are cleared to begin the asylum process.

But immigration advocates say the Haitians are treated differently than other migrants, and are forced to remain in detention while they prepare their cases. Migrants from other countries, they say, are released into the community as they work with lawyers to prepare their asylum cases. (U.S. policy on arriving Haitians)

Demonstrators chant Wednesday across from the Immigration and Naturalization Service building, as they protest the handling of Haitian migrants.

"They're not from a Communist country, and so folks tend to assume they're just economic refugees," said Cheryl Little of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. "They don't have the kind of political clout that a lot of other groups have. And frankly, I think the color of their skin has a lot to do with it."

Last December, 186 Haitians arrived in Florida near Key Largo and were taken to the detention center. Eighteen of those migrants were eventually granted political asylum, but others are still being held. Last Friday, 52 others finally lost their cases and were sent back to Haiti.

Protesters decrying this treatment demonstrated Wednesday in front of the Krome Detention Center and at a campaign stop by Gov. Jeb Bush at the Liberty Learning Center. Members of the Haitian American Grass Roots Association, waving signs reading "Free Haitian refugees," gathered nearby in Little Haiti north of downtown Miami.

"I believe Haitians should be treated like all other people who come to our shores," Bush said at the event, which was sponsored by a group of African-American business and religious leaders.

The governor said he had made his views known to the officer at the Immigration and Naturalization Service in charge of the case and to the White House, now occupied by his brother.

"I've made that case to Washington one more time," Bush said. "If people have a well-founded fear of prosecution, they should be released into the community," and allowed to pursue their case in the courts.

Bush's Democratic challenger, Bill McBride, denounced the current immigration policy, saying that "Haitians -- and Haitians alone -- have been imprisoned at Krome or county jails simply because of their country of origin."

He called on President Bush to issue an executive order releasing the migrants and allowing them to seek immediate asylum hearings.

"These refugees should be granted the same rights as others, and be allowed to seek immediate asylum hearings rather than be subjected to indefinite detention," he said in a letter to the president.

"For too long, United States immigration policy has contained disparities in the treatment of those seeking asylum, and I respectfully request that you take initial steps to resolve these inequities," his letter added.

Ashcroft said since 1999, some 58,000 Haitians migrated legally to the United States, "making it the country with the fourth highest rate of legal immigrants."

The Coast Guard, which has custody of the ship, is investigating how the vessel eluded officials and got so close to shore.

-- CNN Correspondent Mark Potter contributed to this report

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