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Sundial

Fort Lauderdale’s New Police Chief, An Update on Haitian Migrants, And ‘Infinite Country’

Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Larry Scirroto salutes at the funeral of an officer who died of COVID-19 in August.
Mike Stocker
/
South Florida Sun Sentinel
Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Larry Scirotto, center in the suit, salutes as the funeral procession for officer Jennifer Sepot arrives at the Abundant Life Church in Margate on Aug. 20, 2021. Sepot died of COVID-19 on Aug. 14. She was 27.

Meet Fort Lauderdale's new Police Chief Larry Scirroto. Also, a local Haitian-American activist gives an update on the Haitian refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border. Plus, this month's Sundial Book Club title author Patricia Engel discusses her new novel "Infinite Country."

On this Tuesday, September 28, on Sundial.

Fort Lauderdale’s New Police Chief

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated first responders across the country. Specifically, most police officers deal with the general public on a daily basis, which makes them even more vulnerable to contracting the virus.

Still, some officers are still reluctant to get vaccinated. Over the course of one week in August, five police officers died from COVID-19 in various departments across South Florida, including one officer in Fort Lauderdale.

Now the city’s new police chief, Larry Scirotto, faces this challenge. He doesn’t know how many Fort Lauderdale officers are currently vaccinated. Scirotto said he can’t make mandatory vaccinations a policy.

“At this point, what we do is we provide [officers] with the most current information to keep them safe,” Scirotto said. “We have brought vaccination stations to headquarters to encourage more to become vaccinated.”

Additionally, homicides have increased by almost 30% nationwide over the past year, according to new data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Scirotto retired as an assistant police chief in Pittsburgh in 2018. He said his department had a viable violent crime reduction strategy. He added that it’s not just a police response.

“It’s a response that involves the community to be an active participant,” Scirotto said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach to reduce violence.”

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An Update on Haitian Migrants

Over the past nine days, the U.S. has expelled nearly 4,000 Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Individuals and families were sent back to a country dealing with the effects of natural disasters, violence, and political turmoil. About 15,000 migrants were amassed at a camp near the border.

Marleine Bastien is the Executive Director of the Family Action Network Movement, a local organization helping marginalized communities based in Little Haiti. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas invited her and other Haitian leaders to Del Rio, Texas last week. Their goal was to assess the Haitian migrants who were living underneath a bridge. She was shocked at what she saw when they arrived.

“It was completely empty,” Bastien said. “The only presence there was hundreds and hundreds of big trucks and border control officers including the chief who we met with.”

Bastien said she doesn’t know how border control got over 3,000 people out from under the bridge so quickly. She confirmed that many of the refugees didn’t know they were going back to Haiti when they boarded the plane.

The Biden administration is carrying out these mass expulsions under a pandemic law that allows them to send migrants back without giving them a chance to ask for asylum.

“The Biden administration must respect the basic rights of these refugees to seek asylum,” Bastien said. “Let them in, and afford them the basic rights of due process.”

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“Infinite Country” 

Patricia Engel is a New York Times bestselling author and an associate professor at the University of Miami. Her newest novel, “Infinite Country,” is about a young woman who plans a daring escape from a correctional facility in the mountains of Colombia. She must get to Bogotá in time or else she’ll miss her opportunity to reunite with her family in the U.S.

The book details issues of family separation and the immigrant experience. Engel is also half Colombian.

She said the idea of writing fiction is to open windows and doors in a reader’s mind.

“My area of interest is often in a moment that has moral ambiguity that can be read as something dangerous or violent or wrong on the surface, and the more you look into it you might start to wonder if that’s really the case,” Engel said.

The subject of her novel is relevant to current immigration issues in this country. Engel said she wants to show readers that news headlines are more than just stories; they’re part of someone’s reality.

09-28-2021 SUNDIAL Seg C Infinite Country.mp3