Bahamian evacuees denied entry into the United States

MARSH HARBOUR, BAHAMAS - SEPTEMBER 7: Hundreds of people who were displaced by Hurricane Dorian gather at a port that was turned into a distribution and evacuation center in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas on September 7, 2019. Food rations and water were distributed while people waited to board a ferry in order to evacuate to Nassau, Bahamas. The storm made landfall on the island as a Category 5 hurricane. The storm leveled homes, crushed cars and killed people. (Photo by Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The crisis wrought by Dorian, which killed at least 50 people in the northern Bahamas, and likely many more, has begun to be felt in earnest in Florida, with storm victims who own little more than the donated clothes on their backs arriving to seek respite, at least temporarily, from the utter ruin back home.

About 4,000 Bahamians have arrived since the hurricane — 2,000 each by air and by sea, said Diane Sabatino, the head of the Customs and Border Protection office in Miami, who is coordinating the response to the hurricane. 

The United States has a long history of allowing evacuees of natural disasters to enter the country — and many of them stay. Tens of thousands of people from Honduras and Nicaragua came to the United States after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, more fled El Salvador after earthquakes in 2001, and many Haitians arrived in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

Dionisio J. D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation in the Bahamas, said the government there did not know exactly how many people had left or relocated because some were picked up by friends’ boats, private planes and helicopters. On Great Abaco Island, officials estimate that half the population of 20,000 has left for Nassau or other places.

“I don’t think the United States should have any great worry about the quantities of people that are coming in,” Mr. D’Aguilar said. “Those who are coming in are not going to become burdens to the state.”