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#186: MAKE REAL THE RELIEF FOR HAITIAN IMMIGRANTS (fwd)
Published Monday, August 2, 1999, in the Miami Herald
MAKE REAL THE RELIEF FOR HAITIAN IMMIGRANTS
Amnesty rules need to follow law's just intent.
When it approved the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act in 1998,
Congress commendably meant to make amends with a people long treated
unfairly by immigration policy. It would be unconscionable now for the
Immigration and Naturalization Service to adopt rules that defeat the
law's noble intent. That intent was to ``finally end the shameful
decades of unjust treatment of Haitians,'' in the words of its sponsors,
Florida Sens. Bob Graham and Connie Mack, and Michigan Sen. Spencer
Abraham. The law offers amnesty to some 50,000 Haitians who fled the
island during the early 1990s, a time of terrible political violence
that included a bloody military coup. Among the chief beneficiaries will
be Haitian refugees who were deemed to have a credible fear of
persecution had they been sent back and who were ``paroled'' into this
country from the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay. Those who arrived in
the United States or applied for political asylum before Dec. 31,
1995, are eligible, including unaccompanied and abandoned children.
While the proposed INS regulations contain beneficial provisions in the
spirit of the intended relief, other disturbing planks require
documentation that will be hard if not impossible to provide. It is, for
example, unreasonable for the INS to require applicants to furnish birth
certificates from Haiti's National Archives as proof of nationality.
Certainly the agency didn't require such a birth certificate wrongly to
deport the late Thomas Sylvain, a U.S. citizen, to Haiti.
Many Haitians, particularly those born in rural areas, never were
registered with the National Archives to begin with. Many who fled lost
their papers -- and good luck to anyone trying to get copies from Haiti.
Moreover, the INS already has treated most of those eligible as Haitian
because of their parole or asylum petitions; no further proof should be
needed now. Requiring applicants to account for their U.S. presence for
each three months since 1996 likewise is absurd and unnecessary. Where,
how and why would these refugees, mostly poor and terrified of
deportation, travel abroad for so long a period? This group's general
circumstances demand a presumption of continuous presence, unless the
INS has conclusive proof otherwise. South Florida advocates gave the
INS other suggestions: Applicants should be eligible for fraud waivers.
Orphaned and abandoned children should be able to provide credible proof
other than only official court or welfare-agency documents.
Those who were children of eligible parents at the time the law was
passed should remain eligible for benefits, even if they have aged into
adults since. As the INS now digests public comments, may it craft final
rules that truly amend past injustice toward Haitian immigrants.