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Fires burning in New York's Belle Harbor, after the crash of AA Flight 587, Nov. 12, 2001. NYPD

NYC Dominicans: Trial By Fire

by Kelly Cogswell

NOVEMBER 15, 2001. Monday, the sky fell — again — dealing New Yorkers another horrible loss. This time it was the deaths of 260 people on board American Airlines Flight 587 to Santo Domingo, plus five at home in the Belle Harbor, Queens neighborhood where the plane crashed on Veterans Day. Most of the victims on the flight were Dominicans.

Discounting terrorism, investigators at first were focusing on a mechanical failure involving the engine. Then, it was the tail fin that seems to have snapped off a few minutes after take-off. "I don't know that we've had a failure in modern times of a tail on a commercial airplane, so I don't know there's any precedent and we'll be looking very carefully at how the tail failed," the befuddled National Transportation Safety Board's George Black Jr. told CNN.

One victim was Felix Sanchez, a Merrill Lynch employee who escaped from the World Trade Trade Center disaster on September 11. On that day, the Dominican community in New York City lost 41 of its members to terrorists. Some of the passengers were preparing to move back to the Dominican Republic from New York because they felt it was safer.

Grief is compounded for illegal immigrants. "Anguished families are torn between claiming a victim and jeopardizing their ability to stay in their adopted country," said Hispanic community leader Fernando Mateo. Coming forward without a declaration of amnesty may put even those in the preliminary stages of applying for a green card in danger of being detained or deported.

New York Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton have been working with the INS on the problem, though so far they've only made progress on expediting visas for those coming from the Dominican Republic.

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