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#1886L Haitians celebrate King, ask for equal treatment (fwd)
Published Sunday, January 16, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Haitians celebrate King, ask for equal treatment _____by EUNICE PONCE
About 150 members of South Florida's Haitian community gathered in
front of the Torch of Friendship monument in downtown Miami on
Saturday afternoon to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and
sing the praises of freedom, democracy and equal rights. But their
resounding message to the U.S. government and the Immigration and
Naturalization Service was, ''Us, too.'' In their eyes, the U.S.
government does not equally enforce those values for which it
stands. Their latest grievance: the INS repatriation of more than 400
Haitian, Dominican and Chinese immigrants who braved a dangerous voyage
to South Florida on an overcrowded, rickety wooden boat that ran
aground near Key Biscayne on New Year's Day.
The vessel was intercepted at sea, and all but four people, who needed
medical attention, were sent back to Haiti. ''The United States poses
itself as a champion of human rights, but it violated [the immigrants']
rights,'' said Marleine Bastien, spokeswoman for the Haitian-American
Grassroots Coalition, which organized the demonstration. ''They were
deported without being afforded due process.''
The group was joined by leaders from the Haitian and African-American
communities, such as the Rev. Willie Sims and civil rights leader John
Due, as well as Cuban exile leaders Ramon Saul Sanchez of the Democracia
Movement and Jose Basulto of Brothers to the Rescue. Representatives
from other Cuban exile groups such as Agenda Cuba and Juventud Cubana
(Cuban Youth), as well as several from the UNITE! labor union, also
called for an end to what some see as racist tendencies in U.S.
immigration law. ''[The Haitians] should receive interviews, too,'' said
Jorge Acosta of Agenda Cuba. ''There is political instability in Haiti
now.'' Acosta said laws such as the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which
grants Cubans who reach Cuban shores the right to apply for residency,
should be applied to all immigrants who have valid reasons for fleeing
their native countries.
LAND OF DUE PROCESS
Sanchez and Basulto addressed the crowd, and a group of Cuban Americans
stood next to Bastien and other Haitian leaders on the steps from which
they spoke. Carrying U.S. and Haitian flags and placards that read,
''Haitians are human just like you,'' and ''The land of the free
guarantees due process to all, not some,'' the group marched peacefully
and chanted, ''What do we want? Justice.'' Josephine Whang, an Asian
American, said she was worried about the fate of two Chinese refugees
among the 400-plus repatriated group. ''After being sent back, they face
a certain death, too,'' she said. Alita Antoine, a native of Trinidad,
said her Haitian husband, who has been living in South Florida for 35
years, has been trying to apply for citizenship for seven years. She
said the INS has lost his application several times.
''Trinidadians, Haitians, Jamaicans, Dominicans, [the INS] just sees us
as one black blur,'' she said. The event's guest of honor was Yvena
Rhinvil, 33, who is four months' pregnant. She was one of the four from
the boat who stayed in Miami. Rhinvil was separated from her two
children, ages 8 and 10, when the rest of the group was sent back to
Haiti. ''I was so distressed,'' she said, translated from Creole. ''I
couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't do anything until I found out
where they were, and that they arrived safely.'' Rhinvil's children will
be flown back to Miami, where they will live with their mother
until their requests for political asylum can be heard.
Rhinvil, who sat quietly most of the time, wrapping a beige overcoat
tightly around her, said she was not feeling well, but made an effort to
be there because she said she felt honored by the group's support. She
addressed the crowd toward the end of the demonstration. ''I came here
to say thank you to the Haitian community, the American community, all
of Miami,'' she said. ''You have given me strength. It makes me
happy to see that all of you stood for me and with me, to struggle with
me for the return of my children.''