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#3095: INS eases amnesty rules for some (fwd)


Published Friday, March 24, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 INS eases amnesty rules for some                                       

 Tough federal rules that had discouraged thousands of undocumented
Haitians from applying for amnesty were eased Thursday, but the changes
come just a week before a March 31 application deadline, causing
Haitian-American activists to cry foul. The U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service on Thursday announced final guidelines for
eligible immigrants to apply for amnesty under the Haitian
 Immigration Fairness Act, or HRIFA. Notably, the new rules accommodate
 Haitians who have no birth certificates. INS hopes the change will
increase applications. More than 50,000 Haitians had been expected to
submit paperwork, but so far only about 26,797 have done so,
 said INS chief branch examiner Michael Shaul, author of the new rules
who came from Washington to Miami to make the announcement. ``This is
considerably less than what we were anticipating,'' Shaul said. He
noted, however, that under the amnesty provisions, Haitian children can
continue to apply after the March 31 deadline, and that could account
for the low numbers. Shaul said the final rules -- which were supposed
to go out in mid-December -- were delayed because different officers
within INS and the Justice Department had to review the changes. His
apology to more than a dozen immigration activists and attorneys
Thursday drew skepticism. ``This is a sign of gross neglect on the part
of INS,'' said Marleine Bastien, president of Haitian Women of Miami,
who led a small group of protesters holding up signs as Shaul spoke.
 Bastien said the new rules wouldn't make much difference because they
don't go far enough to open the process to low-income applicants.
 ``Most of the barriers that were in place at the beginning still
exist,'' she said. Among the changes: Applicants can submit letters
showing that they have requested birth certificates from Haiti's
National Archives, instead of having certificates in hand. Critics had
 said the certificates are almost impossible to obtain.  The definition
of ``orphan'' was broadened to include children who have one parent
 presumed dead by the Haitian government and a surviving parent unable
to provide care. Police department clearance will be waived in cities
whose departments have been uncooperative in granting documentation. INS
officials noted that this change applied to cities such as New York,
which had ignored applicants' requests. Shaul noted that had not been a
problem with Miami-area police departments. The Haitian amnesty law was
designed primarily to aid people who left Haiti in the early 1990s, but
Haitians who filed for U.S. political asylum before the Dec. 31,
 1995, cutoff also are eligible. The amnesty law, however, still omits
people who entered the country using fraudulent documents. That excludes
about 10,000 Haitians who came into the United States airports with fake
identification. Shaul said INS is bound by law to bar those applicants.
 Also, Haitians still must pay a fee for each family member. Critics
have charged that the fees would exceed $2,000 for a family of seven. 
 HRIFA was approved by Congress in October 1998, at the urging of U.S.
Rep Carrie Meek and Sen. Bob Graham, both Miami Democrats, after
Haitians were omitted from a similar amnesty law covering Nicaraguans
and Cubans enacted 11 months earlier. But because of bureaucratic delays
Haitians couldn't start the application process until June 1999.
 Now Meek, Graham and Republican Sen. Connie Mack are pushing for an
 extension of HRIFA and the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act,
 NACARA, the amnesty law covering Cubans and Nicaraguans. The extension
proposed by Graham would give applicants until March 23, 2001, to apply,
said spokesman Chris Hand. ``The intent [of the amnesty laws] was to
insure greater fairness for Haitians and Central Americans who were
seeking relief. The extension is to help that fairness and make sure
people have plenty of time to apply,'' Hand said. The deadline for both
amnesty programs is midnight March 31.