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#3134: City seeks change in U.S. Haiti policy (fwd)
Published Sunday, January 30, 2000, in the Miami Herald
City seeks change in U.S. Haiti policy by IVONNE PEREZ
The city of North Miami entered the national political arena Tuesday
when it passed a resolution urging the Clinton administration to change
the way Haitians entering the United States by boat are treated.
The resolution passed with a 4-1 vote. Supporting it were Mayor Frank
Wolland, Councilwoman Jeanette Carr and Councilmen Michael Blynn and
Ossmann Desir, who sponsored the resolution. Voting against it was
Councilman Scott Galvin. The resolution urges the Clinton administration
to rescind the policy initiated by former President George Bush in 1992.
That law directs the Immigration and Naturalization Services and the
U.S. Coast Guard to intercept undocumented Haitians in U.S. waters and
return them to Haiti. The policy does not allow Haitians to plea their
case before being sent back to their homeland. ``There is an emerging
and vibrant Haitian community in Miami-Dade,'' Desir said. ``We are very
concerned about the way the Haitian migrants are treated. They are
not getting the treatment that other groups are getting. Something is
terribly wrong with the system.'' Galvin explained his vote by stating
that he already sent President Clinton a letter asking for policy
changes. He felt the council should not discuss foreign policy.
``That's why we elect people to Congress and the Legislature,'' Galvin
said. ``I agree we need to have laws in place that are fair. I don't
think it is for the city council to spend time on and debate.'' North
Miami was the second local government to vote on the resolution. The El
Portal Village Council unanimously passed it earlier this month. Both
cities have large numbers of Haitian-American residents. Behind the
resolution is the Haitian American Grass Roots Coalition, a group of
organizations that acts as a watchdog for immigration rights.
``One group has a red carpet while others do not,'' said Gepsie
Metellus, an aide to Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler, and a
member of the coalition. ``It is a double standard,'' Metellus said.
``It is not consistent and it leads to the perception of discrimination
and racism and favoritism because of its capricious and arbitrary
nature.'' The coalition's push for the resolution came days after the
U.S. Coast Guard took control of a vessel carrying 411 immigrants, most
of them Haitians, that ran aground on New Year's morning two miles
offshore. Four ill passengers were brought ashore and the remaining 407
were sent back to Haiti. In the process, a mother and her two children
were separated. The mother, Yvena Rhinvil, 33, was ill and received
medical attention. Her two children were on the boat returned to Haiti.
The action sparked protests. Haitians in Miami accused the U.S.
immigration policy as being racist. Protesters demanded a review of the
law and for the reunion of the mother and her two children. The mother
and children were reunited Jan. 22.
Those actions also propelled the coalition to compose the resolution,
which states that the current policy denies Haitians the procedural
protection mandated to other refugees. Members hope to take the
resolution to municipalities where large Haitian communities thrive and
forward it to President Clinton and members of Congress. ``We have a
diverse community,'' Metellus said. ``We have to do things
consistently. We have to respect human rights, respect a person's
dignity and provide them with every opportunity to seek relief.''