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Federal Officials Mistakenly Detain Haitian Protesters

August 13, 1992

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Haitians protesting U.S. policy of forcibly returning refugees back to Haiti were mistakenly detained by federal officials who said they thought the group was smuggling illegal immigrants into the country.

About 40 legal Haitian immigrants protested Wednesday by sailing around San Francisco Bay in a 47-foot sailboat.

But officials from the Coast Guard and Immigration and Naturalization Service boarded the boat and detained the protesters for about an hour after the INS got a tip about alleged smuggling, officials said.

″It is not inconceivable that there could be a mother ship lying off the coast sending in boats full of people,″ said David Ilchert, regional director of the INS.

INS officials forced the Haitians to show proof of residency before being allowed to continue their protest, which drew the support of about 150 people on the shore.

Protesters blasted Washington for repatriating Haitian refugees without letting them apply for political asylum.

″What was meant to a symbolic action has turned into a situation of terror. So can you imagine what is happening off the shores of Florida?″ said Rev. Lorenzo Carlisle.

More than 30,000 Haitians have fled the Caribbean island following the Sept. 30 army ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected leader. The Coast Guard sent most of them back.

Refugees claim they are fleeing army terror. The Bush administration says they are escaping poverty.