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#3134: The other custody battle (fwd)


Published Friday, March 31, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News 
 The other custody battle BY ROQUA MONTEZ IV

 AS the tug of war over one little Cuban boy holds a nation agog, a    
far more egregious custody battle is being cast to the periphery.     
In this case, the welfare of thousands of families -- particularly     
Haitians -- teeters on the cusp of uncertainty. Some 3,000 Haitian
immigrants under threat of deportation face a wretched decision:
departing without their American-born children, who, because they were
born here, are citizens by birthright; or dragging them to a land of
grinding poverty and political upheaval.In 1997 Congress granted amnesty
to Cubans and Nicaraguans who came to the United States before December
1995, even if they had entered the country illegally. Most were granted
political refugee status. Haitians, also fleeing political unrest, were
denied the same status because Congress said they left their country to
avoid poverty.Officials estimate nearly 10,000 Haitian immigrants in the
United States face deportation. Of those, roughly 3,000 have children 
who were born in this country. These people can be deported at any time,
thrusting the fate of their families into doubt. Leaving the children in
the states is tantamount to abandonment.But a far more perilous
existence awaits in Haiti, the poorest spot in the Western
Hemisphere.Poverty, malnutrition and disease contribute to one of the
highest child mortality rates in the world. One in ten Haitian children
do  not live past the age of five, victims of serious diseases like    
tuberculosis, typhoid, and diphtheria. Thousands die each year from
malnutrition, especially diarrhea-induced dehydration, the second
leading cause of death. Said Elwin Griffith, a law professor and the
director of the Caribbean Law Institute at Florida State University:
``These  people are stuck, and they can't do a thing about it.'This is
an impossible choice. One that no parent should ever have to anguish
over.A newer, enlightened immigration policy that erases the double
standard for certain refugees is needed. Clearly, U.S. immigration laws,
often controversial and complex, are in great need of reform  when they
force parents to make a damning decision affecting their children.When
6-year-old Elian Gonzalez washed ashore back in November, he became the
unwitting cute-faced poster boy for international custody battles. But
his was always an open-and-shut shut case: The boy belonged with his
father in Cuba.Let's send Elian to his dad posthaste. The real custody
debate awaits in our own home.