[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

#2110: Today's Herald : Amnest for Haiti Bill

From: Merrill Smith <advocacy@bellatlantic.net>

Published Monday, January 31, 2000, in the Miami Herald 


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
U.S. citizenship.

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
President intended. 

Copyright 2000 Miami Herald 

Merrill Smith
Haiti Advocacy, Inc.
1309 Independence Avenue SE
Washington DC 20003-2302
(202) 544-9084
(202) 547-2952 fax