The number of Haitian children illegally entering the United States has increased so dramatically that immigration officials suspect an organized smuggling ring is at work. "It has to be organized because of the volume," said Richard Smith, district director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
INS reports 250 unaccompanied Haitian children arrived illegally in Miami in the year ended Sept. 30 compared with 124 the year before and 30 two years ago.
The increase came as Coast Guard interceptions of Haitians at sea reached their lowest point in seven years.
Most of the illegal entrants arrive at Miami International Airport with fake Haitian passports or phony U.S. alien cards and birth certificates.
INS thinks Haitian families pay $500 to $2,500 for the false documents and air fare, Smith said.
"It appears there is a system in place somewhere that facilitates these types of documents," said Jay LaRoche, chief of immigration and refugee affairs in the Justice Department's community relations service.
In the biggest roundup, 59 Haitian children arrived in Miami on Sept. 12 aboard four airlines: American, Pan Am, ALM Antillean and Haiti Trans Air.
When the children are caught, INS takes them to the Krome Detention Center west of Miami and tries to contact relatives.
If no one qualifies to take custody, the children are transferred under federal contract to the Catholic Home for Children or Boys Town of Florida. Foster care becomes an option.
But the sheer numbers pose a crowding problem at Krome, where some youngsters have been staying in the center's hospital.
"There may be a need for us to look at opening another shelter or increasing the number of beds at the Catholic home and Boys Town if the numbers continue this way," LaRoche said.