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#1706: Haitian community demanding answers... (fwd)


Published Tuesday, January 4, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Haitian community demanding answers
 Haitians: Migrants deserve interview_______By EUNICE PONCE

 As two Coast Guard cutters carried 407 migrants back to Haiti on
Monday, hundreds of demonstrators protested the U.S. policies that
 repatriated them. What most angers the Haitian community, said
 Marleine Bastien, a spokeswoman for the demonstrators, was that
immigration authorities didn't give the migrants a chance to apply for
 political asylum. ''The Haitian community is really feeling outraged
 at the fact that the [immigrants] were returned without even a basic
interview to determine if they had any claims,'' said Bastien, a member
of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. ''Nobody asked them, 'Why
did you leave Haiti?' '' Several in the crowd had answers to that
 question. ''Going to Haiti is like going to hell,'' said Gerard Lacrete
Jr., a Haitian American who lives in Miami and travels to Haiti monthly
on business. ''For a country that's been under a dictatorship for 34
years, there's no way in the world the United States is going to put in
a democracy overnight. The former militaries still carry guns and they
still kill ordinary people. There is no security there -- the people
 don't go out after 6 p.m. for fear of being killed.'' More than 250
people -- including Hispanic, Asian, white non-Hispanic and
 African-American protesters, including state Sen. Kendrick Meek --
chanted ''America, open the door'' and carried placards Monday across
from the Immigration and Naturalization Service building at Biscayne
Boulevard and Northeast 79th Street. They also clamored for information.
Bastien said she had requested a list of names from the INS because many
in the crowd wanted to know if family members were on board the rickety,
60-foot wooden freighter -- since destroyed by the Coast Guard -- that
ran aground off Key Biscayne on New Year's Day. Bastien said her request
was denied.  The immigration agency typically doesn't release names of
people stopped at sea.


 Bastien also wanted the INS to explain why an unaccompanied 12-year-old
boy was among those repatriated, when by legal precedent he should have
been interviewed by the INS, she said. ''You can draw a very clear
parallel between that boy  and Elian,'' said Bastien, referring to
6-year-old Cuban  Elian Gonzalez, who arrived Thanksgiving Day and is
now at the center of a U.S.-Cuba custody dispute.'[The Haitian boy] was
sent back to an uncertain fate. ''We're not saying that everyone should
be allowed in,'' Bastien added. ''We're just saying, give them the
chance to make their case.'' Only four women from the group of 411
remain in  South Florida. The women, who required medical treatment, are
being held at Krome detention center. Their immigration status is still
undecided, INS spokeswoman Maria Elena Garcia said. Cheryl Little, an
immigration attorney and executive  director of the Florida Immigrant
Advocacy Center,said one of her attorneys at Krome is in the process of
finding the women in order interview them.


 Many demonstrators said that INS and Department of Justice policies
toward Haitian immigrants, in comparison to policies toward Cuban
immigrants, are designed to keep black migrants from entering the United
States. They want changes that will force INS investigators to interview
Haitians and give them an immigration hearing. Meanwhile, the Rev.
Willie Sims, director of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board, said
he was planning a large demonstration for Saturday, Jan. 15, in front of
the Torch of Freedom memorial on Biscayne Boulevard.  ''This government
recognizes numbers, and it recognizes unity,'' Sims said. ''If
 they see everyone standing shoulder to shoulder, regardless of color,
place of birth, or religion, they're going to listen. And we're going to
have a secret guest that is just going to move this community like
you've never seen before.'' Bastien said no demonstrations were planned
for today because the Haitian community is planning to approach U.S.
Attorney General Janet Reno, President Clinton and INS Commissioner
Doris Meissner.

 Herald staff writers Jacqueline Charles and Peter Whoriskey contributed
to this report.