It is difficult to imagine that between 1977 and 2009, at least 174,425 Haitians attempted the 700-mile journey to South Florida in “sail freighters.” These 35-50 foot shallow wood hulled boats with a single homemade sail, often without engines or electronics of any kind, carry 100 – 300 people. Most “sail freighters” are smuggling operations costing each passenger a few hundred dollars (an amount equal to the average annual income).
The boats are so overloaded that even on those equipped with outboard motors the engines burn out quickly, leaving passengers at the mercy of the currents. No accurate study of death rates has been conducted but the loss of life is high, probably exceeding the 25-50% fatalities estimated for Cubans and Dominicans respectively.Across nine U.S. presidential administrations, since the first recorded Haitian shipload was denied asylum in 1963, the U.S. response to Haitian sea migrants has been one of resolute rejection:
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