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#3215: Article from Christianity Today on Haitian Immigrants (fwd)
From: Daniel Schweissing <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Haitian immigrants are less welcome than Cubans, but Florida churches are
filling the hospitality gap.
By Kenneth D. MacHarg in Miami
Franz Brinache knows about family separation. Brinache left his Haitian home
and three children in 1994 to escape the violence following a military coup
that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991.
During the next five years, Brinache made repeated attempts to bring his
children to the United States. His personal pleas to the Haitian
government--and paying several hundred dollars to immigration-assistance
agencies--resulted in nothing.
Brinache is not alone. Leaders of Florida’s Haitian community charge that
Haitian immigrants receive unfair treatment in comparison to the Cubans who
receive automatic permanent asylum if they are able to reach U.S. shores.
Haitian immigrants and their churches have renewed public demands for equal
treatment of Haitian refugees, amid the public outcry over Elián González,
the 6-year-old refugee who may be returned to his father in Cuba (CT, March
6, p. 25).
About 350,000 Haitian immigrants live in the south Florida area stretching
from Palm Beach to Key West. Most of them have arrived since the late 1970s.
Without Family, Without Work
Intense media attention has kept the Elián story alive for weeks. But news
reports have largely ignored the case of a fishing boat overloaded with more
than 400 Haitians that was turned away by Coast Guard cutters on New
Other than a few individuals who were hospitalized in Miami, the boatload of
Haitians was returned to the island nation without official hearings.
One pregnant woman who was taken off the boat for medical treatment was
separated from her two children, ages 8 and 9. They were sent back to Haiti
with another relative. Apparently stung by the inconsistency of advocating
family reunification for Elián while separating the Haitian mother and her
children, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) eventually
the children back to Miami to be reunited with their mother.
But the problems facing refugees extend beyond family reunification. "The
very long wait the Haitian people must endure to get a green card from INS
horrible," says Bill Hagewood, pastor of the 580-member Stanton Memorial
Baptist Church, a predominantly Haitian congregation in Miami. "During this
long and stressful wait, they cannot get legal employment, al though they
eager to work."
Some Haitian leaders charge that the policies affecting Haitians are racist.
But Tom Willey, who has led World Relief’s refugee efforts in Miami for
almost 20 years, does not agree with that assessment. "It is easy to make
this a very emotional racial issue, while forgetting that about 40 percent
the Cubans are also black," he says.
"The Cubans are the ones who are treated differently," says Willey, who grew
up in Cuba as the child of missionary parents. He cites the 34-year-old
Adjustment Act, which gives automatic asylum to Cuban refugees "because they
come from a Communist country."
But some Haitians feel they also merit asylum for political reasons. "The
Haitians continue to come here for both economic and political reasons,"
Luc Dessieux, pastor of the United Methodist Haitian Mission, a 350-member
church in Ft. Pierce, Florida, home to 16,000 Haitians. "There would not be
economic problems without the political problems in Haiti."
World Relief and other organizations are actively advocating for refugees
from Haiti and other countries. The Refugee Protection Act, now before
Congress, would prevent the INS from deporting any person seeking asylum
without a hearing by an immigration judge. "The law would give them due
process," says Ami Henson, director of World Relief’s Washington office.
Under a 1996 INS policy still in effect, any applicant may be deported based
on a single decision by a low-ranking officer.
In the interim, south Florida churches are trying to assist Haitians. "We
offer spiritual support through prayer, Christian love and acceptance,"
Hagewood says. The church offers English classes and helps find legal
assistance. A Haitian doctor who is a member of the church also offers
Further north in Ft. Pierce, Luc Dessieux was able to help Brinache and his
children. The pastor sent a letter to the Haitian government and received a
reply within three weeks. Three months later, Brinache’s two younger
were able to seek asylum in the United States. Brinache and an older son
reunited last year.
Dessieux’s ministry is in jeopardy due to a lack of funds. The church will
stop distributing food and clothes because of inadequate support. A grant
from the United Methodist Church has run out and will not be renewed. The
church also is closing its daycare center because it cannot find enough
Yet Dessieux remains focused. "Our first responsibility is to preach the
gospel and save as many souls as we can," Dessieux says. "Through some
difficulties, we try to see how we can do social services to keep the
- from Christianity Today.com, April 6, 2000
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