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#1720: Penelas: Review migrants' cases (fwd)


Published Tuesday, January 4, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Penelas: Review migrants' cases BY KAREN BRANCH

 Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, leader of a county whose budget has
ebbed from decades of needs associated with surges in immigration, is
advocating a change in immigration policy in the wake of Saturday's
interception at sea of 411 Haitian, Dominican and Chinese migrants.
 He is not seeking the wholesale release of the migrants intercepted off
Key Biscayne. Rather, he wants them brought to shore for a more thorough
review of their cases. ``They should be allowed in for the purposes of
an interview, said Penelas, the son of Cuban exiles. ``They should have
been processed here at Krome and given the opportunity. If they meet the
criteria, fine. If not, you have to follow the law. That someone be
provided a basic due-process right of getting an interview, I don't
 think that would open the floodgates. The interception struck a chord
with several South Florida politicians, who joined Haitian-American
community leaders Sunday outside the Miami Beach Coast Guard station to
argue to bring the migrants to land for asylum hearings.  Instead, the
migrants were being repatriated to Haiti on Monday aboard two Coast
 Guard cutters.


 The request challenges the ``wet foot, dry foot policy in which only
migrants who reach U.S. soil are allowed to remain until they receive
their hearing. That usually buys them time to seek legal advice, unlike
those migrants intercepted at sea.  ``The feeling is those hearings on
the cutters are somewhat perfunctory, somewhat superficial, and
certainly that was what I was hearing from a lot of the folks involved,
Penelas said. U.S. Reps. Carrie Meek, D-Miami, and Lincoln Diaz-Balart,
R-Miami, have also made similar arguments. Despite palpable electoral
gains in recent years for Haitian-American voters and candidates in
Miami-Dade, Penelas said his role was not political. He is expected
 to run for reelection this fall. ``I'm sure you will try to associate
everything I do with politics, however, I was there because those are
human beings -- people who I believe should be afforded basic due
process, said Penelas. ``That's why I was there.


 Meek, whose congressional district takes in a large portion of
Miami-Dade's Haitian-American community in El Portal, North Miami and
Little Haiti, has been the most vociferous advocate. She appeared at
rallies Sunday and Monday to demand the intercepted migrants, 393 of
whom are Haitian, be brought to land. ``Instead of receiving an
opportunity to consult with lawyers and a meaningful interview onshore
with appropriate INS officials, the Haitians are simply turned
 around at sea and sent back, Meek said in a written statement.
 At Sunday's rally, Diaz-Balart, also up for reelection in the fall,
called the policy ``illogical.  He, like Penelas, argued that migrants
should be allowed to come to land for an asylum hearing if they are
intercepted in U.S. territorial waters. The New Year's Day interception
was just off Key Biscayne.


 The bipartisan unity on the issue, however, did not extend to Gov. Jeb
Bush. ``He basically supports the current U.S. policy for the reason
that he believes it
 helps prevent greater loss of life at the high seas, Bush spokesman
Justin Sayfie said Monday. ``It acts as a deterrent for people to
undertake enormous risks at the high seas to attempt to come to the
United States. That's the concern. . . . The people on board [cutters]
are being given the opportunity under the current INS policy to discuss
their situation and that determination can be made on board the