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As the Dominican Community Mourns Losses From Crash of American Airlines Flight 587 Inqueens, Many Family Members of Undocumented Immigrants Are Afraid to Claim Their Dead Or Leave Thecountry to Bury

November 15, 2001

Almost 90 percent of the 265 people who died on Monday in the crash of the American Airlines Flight 587 jetlinerbound for Santo Domingo were of Dominican origin. Dominican Consul Luis Eludis Perez, his eyes red from grieving,said, "There’s no break for the Dominicans. We had hardly begun to recover from the shock of the September 11tragedy, and now this happens."

New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood is home to the nation’s largest concentration of Dominican immigrants.Piles of flowers in memory of the dead dot the sidewalks of the deeply religious, working class neighborhood. Outsidethe office of Alianza Dominicana, a social service agency, is a makeshift memorial marked by candles, flowers, and abanner that reads "Estamos de Luto," or "We are in mourning." Yesterday as some family members of victims gathered toseek counseling, New York Police Department buses transported many to a family-assistance center to supply DNAevidence to help identify remains.

But amid the community’s grief, Dominican relatives of some of the victims of American Airlines Flight 587 are afraidto come forward to claim the bodies of their loved ones —or leave the country to bury them. Family members andcommunity leaders are calling on the federal government to grant an amnesty so that those in the United Statesillegally can regain entry into the country if they return to the Dominican Republic to bury their dead.

Kimberly Weissman, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington, D.C., said that theINS was urging undocumented aliens who lost loved ones to contact authorities without fear of being detained ordeported-as was also the case following the attack on the World Trade Center. But Weissman said she was unsurewhether illegal aliens would be allowed to re-enter the country if they left to bury loved ones abroad. "Those whohave applied for a green card might be able to be paroled back into the country, but in general, although wesympathize with their circumstance, this issue is beyond our discretionary authority," she said.

Senator Charles Schumer’s office say he has worked out an agreement with the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo toexpedite visas for family members wishing to come to the United States.

Ruben Diaz, New York state assembly member for the Bronx section of Manhattan, is one of the most outspoken advocatesfor New York’s Dominican community.


  • Ruben Diaz, New York state assembly member for the Bronx.

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