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US preps to halt post-earthquake migration of Haitians, just in case

US Coast Guard has 16 cutter ships near Haiti, in part to send Haitians the message 'don't try to flee.' There's been no sign of any post-earthquake exodus, but a preexisting US 'mass migration plan' is at the ready.

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The US government is building a task force prepared to interdict and repatriate Haitians who try to flee their devastated island. So far, there are no indications of any mass migration, though a photo of a crowded Haitian ferry touched off concern in south Florida last month after the earthquake.

The US Coast Guard has 16 cutter ships in and around Haiti as part of an effort to patrol the area for smugglers and to send a message to Haitians: Don’t try to flee.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano set up a task force two days after the Jan. 12 earthquake to hedge against the possibility that Haitians would attempt to leave the island for the US, in search of food, water, and shelter. Over the past week or so, officials have been assembling the unit at a site in Miami and can mobilize it if needed, says Lt. Cmdr. Chris O’Neil, a spokesman for the US Coast Guard.

The US announced last month that any Haitians who attempt to leave the island for the US without proper documentation would be repatriated. No such mass migration has occurred, nor, so far, are there indications that it might.

South Floridians had braced for such a possibility after a photograph surfaced last month showing Haitians crowded onto a ferry and possibly headed to the US. The image turned out to have caused false alarm, but it did point up the worry that with hundreds of thousands of Haitians affected by the quake, the US would have to prepare a plan.

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