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#1857: Haitians See Double Standard (fwd)
Saturday January 15 3:32 AM ET
Haitians See Double Standard
By MILDRADE CHERFILS Associated Press Writer
MIAMI (AP) - As politicians and protesters were fighting to keep
6-year-old Elian Gonzalez in America, a boatload of Haitian immigrants
and their children were being ferried back to Haiti. To Miami's Haitian
community, the two similar journeys - one that ended off the Florida
coast on Thanksgiving, the other on New Year's Day - have dramatized
what they say is a cruel and racist double standard in U.S. immigration
policy. Cubans are embraced and almost automatically offered
citizenship, while Haitians are routinely sent back.
``It boils down to racism,'' said Marleine Bastien, president of
Haitian Women of Miami. ``It's been going on too long.''
The disparity inspired a protest this week in downtown Miami by
hundreds of blacks and Haitian-Americans. Another is scheduled today.
Protesters earlier pointed to the plight of a pregnant Haitian woman
whose children were sent back this month while she remained in Miami for
medical treatment. The government ultimately said the children will be
allowed to return to be with their mother.
Illegal immigrants caught trying to get to the United States are sent
back to their home countries. But under the 1966 Cuban Readjustment Act,
Cubans who reach U.S. soil can stay. There is no such law for Haitians
and others who arrive here illegally. They are sent back unless they can
prove a ``credible fear'' of persecution in their homeland. David
Abraham, an immigration law professor at the University of Miami, said
Cubans are in a special situation because of the nature of the United
States' relationship with the communist-run island. ``If ever
Haitian-Americans become as well-organized and influential as
Cuban-Americans, they will receive greater attention,'' Abraham said.
``But I cannot imagine there ever being something like the Cuban
Adjustment Act for Haitians.'' Legally and politically, the 150,000
Haitians in South Florida don't have the clout as Cubans. Cubans, who
account for 35 percent of Miami-Dade County's 2.1 million people,
dominate local politics and have a growing influence in state politics
and two representatives in Congress. Haitians made their biggest
political gain in December when residents of El Portal, a small village
that borders Miami, elected three Haitians to its five-member council.
It is the first municipality in the United States to have a Haitian
majority. Despite the political gains, activists say Haitians are
routinely returned to Haiti without being allowed to request a hearing
to prove they fear persecution at home. They criticize the ``wet foot,
dry foot'' exemption for Cubans who reach Florida.
``The wet foot, dry foot policy is inconsistent. It's arbitrary. It's
capricious. It's subjective,'' said Gepsie Metellus, director of
public affairs for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler.
``When you've got those kinds of qualifications in a policy, they
naturally lead to discrimination, to racism and to favoritism.''
Elian has been living with relatives in Miami since he was discovered
Thanksgiving Day floating on an inner tube off the Florida coast. His
mother, stepfather and nine others drowned after their boat sank. The
controversy over where the boy should live has sparked large protests in
Cuba and Miami. The Immigration and Naturalization Service had said the
boy must be returned to his father in Cuba by Friday, but Attorney
General Janet Reno lifted the deadline. Elian's Miami relatives are
expected to go to federal court to fight for the boy.
The Haitians contrast Elian's case with that of Marc Dieubon, 9, and
Germanie Dieubon, 8, who were separated from their mother on New Year's
Day after a 60-foot wooden boat carrying 411 people, mostly from Haiti,
ran aground about two miles off Florida. Their mother, Yvena Rhinvil,
was brought ashore for medical treatment, while the children were
returned to Haiti. U.S. officials said they weren't told Rhinvil's
children were with her and would have let the children stay if they had
known. On Thursday, the government decided to allow the children to be
reunited with their mother in Florida while her political asylum claim
is weighed. ``This is one step towards mending the many different wounds
this community, especially the Haitian community, has suffered,'' said
Aude Sicard, a member of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. ``We
will continue with the fight to establish our position in terms of equal
treatment and due process.''