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#1828: Haitians Seek Immigration Equality (fwd)


Haitians Seek Immigration Equality

.c The Associated Press


MIAMI (AP) - Haitian-American activists say the treatment of 6-year-old Elian 
Gonzalez highlights an unfair disparity in U.S. policy toward would-be 
immigrants from Cuba and their island nation.

Haitian-Americans and others staged a mock funeral Wednesday for some of the 
more than 400 Haitians whose boat ran aground in Florida during a New Year's 
Day attempt to reach the United States. Survivors told the Coast Guard that 
as many as six people died during the 600-mile voyage and were thrown 

The ceremony was followed by a candlelight march attended by about 3,000 

The difference in how immigration officials treat Haitians and Cubans seemed 
stark to protester Louisiane Valcourt, 60. ``They regard the Cubans as people 
and the Haitians as animals,'' she said.

Under U.S. immigration policy, Haitians and others who arrive illegally are 
sent back to their country. The Cuban Readjustment Act of 1966 and the 
application of a so-called ``wet foot, dry foot'' policy allows Cubans who 
walk ashore to stay in the United States.

But Haitians claim they are routinely sent back without being allowed to 
request a hearing to determine whether they have a ``credible fear'' of 
persecution in their homeland.

Jocelyn McCalla, executive director of the New-York based National Coalition 
for Haitian Rights, said the U.S. disposition is ``illegal'' and ``absolutely 

Protesters contrasted the international custody battle over Gonzalez - who 
survived a Thanksgiving Day boat trip to the United States in which his 
mother, stepfather and others drowned - with the plight of a pregnant Haitian 
woman whose children were returned to Haiti this month while she remained in 
the United States.

In the New Year's trip, Yvena Rhinvil, who is four months pregnant, was one 
of four people brought to shore for medical reasons. But her children, ages 8 
and 9, were among those sent back to Haiti, where they are living with an 

U.S. officials said they weren't told Rhinvil's children were with her. ``If 
we would have known that she had children on board, we would have brought the 
children with her,'' said Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz.

The repatriation of the New Year's Day Haitian migrants is especially unfair 
given the treatment of Gonzalez, many said.

``We're not asking the U.S. to open its borders indiscriminately,'' said 
Leonie Hermantin, head of the Haitian-American Foundation. ``When people come 
here making asylum claims, they should not be turned back without due 

AP-NY-01-13-00 0228EST

 Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.  The information  contained in the AP 
news report may not be published,  broadcast, rewritten or otherwise 
distributed without  prior written authority of The Associated Press.