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Last group of Haitians with HIV arrives

The last of 139 HIV-infected Haitians held for months at a U.S. Navy base in Cuba landed here Monday seeking asylum, and the military started to close the detention camp.

"I came from Haiti, where it is bad, and I went to Guantanamo, where it was worse. Anywhere else should only be better," said Michel Valsaint, 29, a former agricultural extension agent in Haiti who was among the last 14 to arrive from Guantanamo Bay.

Justice Department officials said the Haitians brought from Guantanamo in the past week wouldn't be affected by Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the government's policy of returning Haitians without hearing their political-asylum claims.

The refugees held at the camp already were interviewed and found to have a fear of political persecution, said Cheryl Little, director of Florida Rural Legal Services.

The camp was opened when people started fleeing Haiti by the thousands in rickety boats after the 1991 ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president.

The dusty enclave of tents and barracks penned in by barbed wire held 12,500 Haitian refugees at its peak last year. Some were returned to Haiti; others were allowed to enter the United States under asylum laws.

In recent months their numbers dwindled to HIV-infected refugees. They were stuck in limbo with legitimate asylum claims but unable to enter the United States because another federal policy barred immigration to people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

On June 8, a federal judge in New York ruled that detaining the infected Haitians was illegal, and the barbed wire came down.

As the last 11 men and three women from the camp arrived in Miami, the joint military command set up to run the camp prepared to return it to Navy control within two weeks.