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#2110: Today's Herald : Amnest for Haiti Bill
From: Merrill Smith <email@example.com>
Published Monday, January 31, 2000, in the Miami Herald
EXTEND AMNESTY FOR HAITIANS
SEN. GRAHAM'S BILL MUST PASS
Thousands of Haitians celebrated in the streets of Miami when President
Clinton signed into law the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act.
Overnight, about 50,000 refugees who had fled dictatorial repression
became eligible for legal residency in the United States, a step toward
But the euphoria of October 1998 is giving way to fears by many Haitians
that their hopes were premature and that their futures in this country
could be disrupted because of bureaucratic rules and red tape. As many
as 38,000 of these Haitians could be left out of the program -- unless
a measure being pushed by U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., passes Congress
The Haitians were kept waiting for eight months as the U.S. Immigration
and Naturalization Service worked on eligibility rules. Now, with a
March 31 deadline approaching, only 18,000 from the eligible pool have
One reason is that when the tentative rules were released, many found
themselves unfairly disqualified. Among those left out are 10,000
refugees who entered this country through airports using counterfeit
documents. Although that might seem a crime under ordinary
circumstances, these people seldom had legal options for fleeing Haiti.
Deception was needed to escape from a vengeful regime. Over the past
six years, these refugees have built lives in this country, including
having American children. If the parents are forced to return, what are
these children going to do?
Also, immigrant advocates say filing fees put the program beyond reach
for many of the eligible refugees. One family cited by the advocates,
for example, would pay $2,045 for the parents and their five children.
That family's 1999 gross income was less than $20,000. The cost of
hiring private attorneys adds to the burden.
Many of these problems can be corrected only by Congress. Sen. Graham's
bill would right the biggest wrong by extending the application
deadline a year, thus providing more time for eligible Haitians to
qualify. He intends to do the same for Central American and Haitian
refugees who sought to have their status legalized under the Nicaraguan
and Central American Relief Act (NACARA). The senator also pledges to
try to reduce the fee burden and win inclusion for those who
necessarily used fraudulent documents.
Congress should support him. Common-sense legislation such as Mr.
Graham's would ensure that the intent of the law is carried out as the
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald
Haiti Advocacy, Inc.
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Washington DC 20003-2302
(202) 547-2952 fax