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#636: Marchers slam deportations (fwd)
Published Tuesday, September 28, 1999, in the Miami Herald
Marchers slam deportations BY CHARLES SAVAGE
More than 150 protesters on Monday denounced a law that automatically
deports noncitizens with past criminal convictions. The predominantly
Haitian crowd outside the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
district headquarters at Northeast 79th Street and Biscayne Boulevard
was joined by representatives of other immigrant groups during the
rally. In blue jeans and business suits, the protesters shouted slogans,
waved signs and blasted Bob Marley protest anthems at the INS building
for three hours. ``The 1996 law separates families from detainees,''
said Millie Castanlanos, of the Mothers for Freedom, a Cuban advocacy
group. ``If they're going to shoot out a law, they have to do it
evenhandedly. We're all immigrants. This is an immigrant country.''
ACTIVISTS JOIN FORCES
Organizer Marleine Bastien, president of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami
(Haitian Women of Miami), said the movement to repeal parts of the 1996
Immigration Law was gathering strength as bonds were forged between
different ethnic groups affected by the law. ``For the first time, we
have people from different ethnic groups together to protest the
anti-immigrant, racist 1996 law,'' Bastien said. ``This coalition will
get bigger and bigger and bigger until Congress listens to us.''
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996
retroactively punishes noncitizens for past crimes with deportation. It
also dictates that people convicted of even minor crimes be detained
until they are deported. Cheryl Little, executive director of the
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, said the law is unconstitutional. The
legal advocacy group has taken up several cases of people detained for
deportation by the INS for past crimes.
``This law calls for the mandatory detention of people who committed
minor crimes years and years ago, crimes that were not even grounds for
deportation at the time,'' Little said. ``It removes due process and the
review of INS decisions by federal court judges. So it's completely
arbitrary and capricious.'' Bastien and Little were among several
leaders of the group invited into the INS building to meet with
officials about an hour into the protest. They were cheered
as they walked across the street to enter the complex.
``We met with several leaders of the group and are going to relay their
concerns to Mr. Wallis tomorrow,'' said INS spokeswoman Kelley Spellman,
speaking about the agency's district director, Robert Wallis. ``We
understand their frustration with the 1996 law.'' Prominent on posters
and in slogans were the names Fredeline Dauphin, a 24-year-old mother of
three who was declared a noncitizen while serving an 18-month sentence
for aggravated assault, and Ralph Richardson, who has been
at Krome Detention Center since October 1997.
Richardson was arrested at Miami International Airport while returning
from a two-day trip to Haiti with his mother. He was convicted of a drug
possession offense in 1991, but supporters said he had turned his life
around after serving out his sentence. His sister, Karlie Richardson,
was among the protesters. She said her brother, who came to the United
States when he was 2 years old, knows no one in Haiti and does not speak
the language of the country, but has a family and a business
in Atlanta. ``He's a businessman and a very productive member of the
community now,'' Karlie Richardson said. ``He was taken away from his
family, and he's not around for his children. His wife is losing
everything because he was the sole supporter of the family. I think this
law is so unfair.'' In a letter to The Herald published Sept. 17, Wallis
rejected the view that Richardson is being treated unfairly.
``Richardson is in custody because he is a convicted drug trafficker, a
potential threat to the community and a flight risk,'' Wallis wrote.
``The 1996 immigration laws were indeed passed by Congress to rid the
country of immigrants who commit certain crimes, including murder, rape,
drug trafficking and others. Richardson is a convicted criminal and is
in violation of U.S. immigration laws.'' But protester Kathy Clevier
said the INS is enforcing the law disproportionately on black
immigrants. ``The 1996 immigration in America had exceptions for Cubans
and Nicaraguans,'' Clevier said. ``At Krome, you see a disproportionate
number of people of color.The hardship created by this law is felt most
by Haitians and Jamaicans. The system has a double standard.''