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Rescuers search for survivors after Haitian migrant boat sinks in Bahamas

By the CNN Wire Staff
June 12, 2012 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The search for survivors continues after a boat carrying 28 Haitian migrants sinks
  • The boat, bound for the United States, ran aground off Hawksbill Cay, the U.S. Coast Guard says
  • Eleven bodies have been found and 13 people remain missing; four made it to shore
  • About 587,000 Haitian-born people live in the United States, 2010 Census figures show

(CNN) -- U.S. Coast Guard officers continued to search for survivors Tuesday after a boat carrying 28 Haitian migrants ran into trouble in the Bahamas while on its way to the United States, leading to at least 11 deaths.

Thirteen people are believed missing, the U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday.

Four of those on board made it safely to shore Monday and raised the alarm with the Bahamas police force, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios said.

The hunt for survivors continued early Tuesday, with U.S. Coast Guard officers scanning the seas from the air and Bahamian police conducting surface searches.

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The Haitians' vessel ran aground and broke up near Hawksbill Cay in the Bahamas, the Coast Guard said.

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The Coast Guard sent three aircraft, one of them a rescue helicopter, to the scene after Bahamian authorities asked for help and recovered 11 bodies there, Rios said.

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Capt. Brendan McPherson, 7th Coast Guard District chief of response enforcement, said it was a "tragic and preventable loss of life," in a statement Tuesday.

"As we continue our efforts to locate any survivors, the Coast Guard urges family members everywhere to plead with loved ones overseas who might wish to immigrate to the U.S. to only do so through safe and lawful means," he said.

The United States has long been a destination for migrants from Haiti, with many sailing via the Bahamas or the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Boats overflowing with migrants fleeing persecution under the regime of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier began landing on U.S. shores in the 1970s. Others sought refuge after the collapse of the Duvalier dictatorship in the late 1980s, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

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In the early 1990s, tens of thousands more Haitians migrated to the United States after the coup d'etat deposing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The January 2010 earthquake that devastated the capital, Port au Prince, and surrounding communities did not result in an immediate wave of mass migration to the United States, as some had feared.

Nonetheless, about 587,000 Haitian-born people were living in the United States as of 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about half of whom are naturalized U.S. citizens.

That number had climbed from 408,000 in 2000 and 218,000 in 1990, according to a 2010 report by the U.S.-based Center for Immigration Studies, citing earlier census figures.

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Nearly half the migrants from Haiti have settled in Florida, with New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts also attracting sizable communities, the CIS report says. A fifth of Haitian immigrants and their young children residing in the United States live in poverty, it adds.

The Haitian diaspora has traditionally helped its Caribbean homeland recover from natural disasters, with large sums sent back to Haiti in remittances, the Migration Policy Institute says.

The United Nations estimates the January 2010 earthquake affected nearly 3 million people and killed about 220,000. More than 1.5 million people were left homeless in a country that was already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and racked by crisis.

CNN's Nick Valencia, Laura Smith-Spark and Catherine Shoichet contributed to this report.

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