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#1833: Haitian protesters seek immigration review (fwd)
Published Thursday, January 13, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Haitian protesters seek immigration review___ BY AMY DRISCOLL
Demanding equal treatment under U.S. immigration law, hundreds of
Haitian-Americans and African-Americans formed a mock funeral
procession Wednesday night, hoisting black-draped coffins to symbolize
those who have died trying to reach Florida's shores. Chanting one word
-- ``Jus-tice!'' -- the crowd wound through Little Haiti and onto
Biscayne Boulevard, where it snarled traffic for more than an hour on
its way to the Immigration and Naturalization Service headquarters.
The peaceful demonstration had twin goals: to ask for a review of U.S.
immigration policy, which they say is racist, and to reunite a Haitian
woman with her two children, who were repatriated without her.
The woman arrived New Year's Day on a boatload of more than 400
refugees. As many as 10 people reportedly died on the journey. ``You see
my people and you think they are poor, ugly people,'' said Joseph
Printdujour, a Haitian-American computer technician from Miami. ``But I
see people who are poor but filled with spirit. And now we are being
heard.'' Holding flickering candles against the darkening night sky, the
crowd chanted and sang, to a background of honking car horns from
stopped traffic and the thumping of media helicopters overhead.
The group held homemade signs: ``Stop Mistreatment of Haitian
Refugees,'' ``Racism Is the No. 1 Crime Against Human Rights,'' and
``All Blacks Must Unite to Fight Racism.'' They cheered when Bishop
Victor Curry of New Birth Baptist Church promised continued
demonstrations: ``U.S. immigration policy is flawed,'' he said later.
``It always seems to come down to race.''
The demonstration was part of a surge in activism by South Florida's
Haitian-American and African-American communities following the
repatriation of more than 400 Haitian, Dominican and Chinese people
intercepted at sea before dawn Jan. 1. The migrants were aboard the
60-foot wooden freighter when it ran aground two miles off the Florida
coast. As many as 10 people suffocated during the crossing or drowned
while attempting to swim ashore, passengers reported. Passengers
reportedly paid as much as $5,000 each to make the four-day trip
from Haiti to Miami in the boat. For much of the treacherous voyage,
they huddled shoulder to shoulder below deck without sanitation. They
had hoped to slip onto U.S. shores under cover of darkness and New
Year's Eve celebrations.
KIDS SENT BACK
Following current immigration policy for those stopped at sea, the INS
returned 407 passengers to Port-au-Prince. Four women were taken to
Miami for medical treatment, including Yvena Rhinvil, whose children,
ages 8 and 10, were sent back to Haiti without her. Rhinvil was released
from the Krome detention center Wednesday, along with two of the other
women. She will be granted a full political asylum hearing and has a
pending request for her children to join her in the United States. An
aunt is caring for the children in Port-au-Prince. The protest also came
in the wake of widespread outrage and demonstrations over the plight of
6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy caught in a custody war between
his family members in the United States and Cuba. The Haitian
demonstrators repeatedly chanted ``equal treatment, equal justice'' --
a reference to the perception that immigration policy favors Cubans.
Under current U.S. immigration policy, any immigrants intercepted at
sea are to be returned to their country. For those who reach shore, the
policy differs: Cubans routinely are allowed to stay while others must
establish asylum claims under much more rigorous standards. Miami-Dade
Mayor Alex Penelas told the crowd he had written a letter to U.S.
Attorney General Janet Reno, asking for a review of the immigration
policy: ``Everyone should have a right to have their day in court. This
is not about nationality. This is about justice.''
Herald writer Hans Mardy contributed to this report.