Haitian migrant parents Chandeline Leonard and Lucsene Augustin are behind bars, weeping around the clock.
The mother is screaming, “I want to die,” and both of them have not been eating well since they were captured off the coast of Boynton Beach three months ago, supporters say.
Their 8-month-old dau-ghter’s body lies in a morgue at the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office. The infant, Luana Augustin, died when the human smuggling boat that carried her and her parents from Haiti capsized.
On Tuesday, Aug. 11, the couple’s relatives and community activists demanded that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement release the mourning parents so they can bury Luana.
“We want their freedom,” Leonard’s cousin, Albert Noel, said moments after attending a press conference in Miami calling for the pair’s release. “They left Haiti for a reason, to find a better life. After spending 14 hours at sea, then losing the baby, they [authorities] should give all that some consideration, and let them come home with their family.”
Noel said he visited Leonard, 32, and Augustin, 26, at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach for immigrants in custody, before authorities moved the pair to a federal facility in West Palm Beach last week.
“They have tears rolling down their faces 24-7, they’re inconsolable behind locked cells,” Noel said.
Noel, a United States citizen, said the pair could come live with him and his family. They should be given a chance to get jobs and pay taxes, he said, so the pair can support the four remaining children in their hometown of Port-de-Paix.
Immigration authorities reportedly turned custody of the parents over to the U.S. Marshals Service in West Palm Beach. The Palm Beach Medical Examiner’s Office is expected to keep Luana’s body until the matter is resolved, according to ICE spokeswoman Nicole Nava.
The bodies of Luana and eight others were found in the waters off Boynton Beach in mid-May after the smuggling boat operation failed. The bodies of three unidentified women remain at the Palm Beach morgue, along with Luana’s body.
The attorney for Luana’s parents has written to Immigration and Customs and the Department of Homeland Security, asking for the pair’s release on humanitarian parole, community activists said. As of Tuesday, the attorneys had not received a response.
The pair and 14 others who survived the fatal journey are being detained because they may have material information in the smuggling case against two others suspected of arranging the dangerous voyage, said Haitian activist Marleine Bastien, founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.
“This is a compelling case, and we believe the Department of Homeland Security needs to treat it as such, so that these parents can bury their baby,” Bastien said. “It’s a sad day for parents when they can’t get out of jail to bury their baby.”
Members of the Haitian community are prepared to bury the child as soon as the parents are released, Bastien said.
A funeral home and Father Reginald Jean-Mary of Notre Dame d’Haiti are standing by to send off the baby, when the parents are released, she said.
“We want them out. These people need long-term counseling,” Bastien said.
Editor’s Note: To read a column by Marleine Bastien calling for the release of Chandeline Leonard and Lucsene Augustin, turn to page A4, or log onto SFLTimes.com.
Photo: Marleine Bastien