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#1716: U.S. immigration policy is inconsistent (fwd)


Published Wednesday, January 5, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 U.S. immigration policy is inconsistent ----By CARL HIAASEN

 Make a fair law that applies equitably to everybody.

 Some people seem genuinely surprised that 407 migrants whose overloaded
boat ran aground off Key Biscayne summarily were returned to Haiti this
week.  Of course they got sent back -- it's been happening for 20 years.
Since when have Haitian refugees been treated the same as Cuban
refugees?  In 1994 the Clinton administration caused a stir by
announcing that Cuban rafters would be picked up and repatriated. The
new policy, which was meant to deter another exodus from Cuba, was
denounced as heartless by some exile groups.  At the time, 15,000
Haitian boat people were being detained in a prison camp at
 the U.S. Navy Base in Guantanamo. They'd all been intercepted at sea
while fleeing a homeland in political turmoil and economic ruin. 
 Today, Haiti's dictators and military goons have been driven from
office, if not entirely from power. A U.S. military intervention stopped
some of the bloody political terrorism, but the country is a democracy
in name only.  The Parliament hasn't met for a year, and no
constitutionally structured government has been in place since 1997,
when the prime minister quit. Elections are scheduled for March, but
bureaucratic chaos threatens to postpone the balloting.  More than $500
million in foreign aid remains untapped, and Haiti remains
 wretchedly impoverished. No wonder so many people still risk everything
to get to Florida; you would, too.  But the United States, and Florida
in particular, cannot afford to take in every hungry soul from the
Caribbean and Central America. It would be a desperate stampede,
madness. That's why there's an immigration policy. Now all we need is
one that's fair, consistent and immune to manipulation. While Clinton's
interdiction edict has reduced the influx from both Cuba and Haiti, it
has failed to put all migrants on equal footing.  A Cuban baseball
player escapes by boat to the Bahamas, and is welcomed into
 the United States on a humanitarian visa. Within months he's a
millionaire, pitching for the New York Yankees. No humanitarian visas
were given to the Haitians taken off that creaky boat in Biscayne Bay
and sent home. We'll never know if any of them could throw a 95 mph
fastball, like ``El Duque'' Hernandez, but they came here chasing the
same dream of prosperity.  Seldom has the disparity been as dramatically
illustrated as in recent weeks.  Ever since Thanksgiving, the
disgraceful tug-of-war over little Elian Gonzalez has obsessed the local
media. Plucked from an inner tube off the Broward coast, the Cuban boy
who lost his mother on the voyage has become a political pawn here
 and in Havana. If Elian had come from any other country, including
Haiti, he would have been flown home to his father within days of his
rescue. Instead he's being promoted like a child movie star, hauled from
one contrived appearance to another.  Amid this ongoing P.R. campaign
comes the untimely beaching of the Haitian migrants, and the distressing
images of 400-plus men, women and children squeezed onto a teetering
wooden hulk.  They undertook their dangerous journey for the same reason
Elian's mother had made hers: They wanted a better life. And, like
Elian's mother, most of them were not political refugees as defined by
U.S. law.  Yet the Haitians were sent back, without hearings, ostensibly
because that's the rule for migrants stopped at sea. Haitian Americans
are upset because it is applied subjectively, and has been bent before
in response to community pressure.  For example, most of the Cuban
migrants who were hosed by Coast Guardsmen off Surfside last summer
never reached the beach, and therefore were eligible for return to Cuba.
Instead they were released to relatives in Miami, following massive
 street protests by exiles.  The difference in treatment of the Haitians
is so glaring that Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, Rep. Lincoln
Diaz-Balart and other Cuban American politicians have rallied to the
cause. Better late then never.  But the solution to such injustice is
not opening the process to all who reach U.S. territorial waters, for
the seas would fill with flimsy boats and tragedy upon tragedy would
follow.  The solution is to make a fair law that applies equitably to
everybody, and to quit playing favorites.