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#3244: Haitian Refugees (fwd)


Scripps Howard News Service

(April 13, 2000 12:01 a.m. EDT - The five-month saga of Elian Gonzalez
is, at last,wending its circuitous way toward resolution, and the
6-year-old Cuban youngster's bright star in the media
heavens will soon fade. The barricades surrounding the home of Elian's
Miami relatives will come down, and the demonstrators who
agitated for the boy to be kept in the United States will straggle off. 

Alfredo Rodriguez, one of the regulars at the barricades said to a
reporter, "What else is there to do on the weekend? It's the best show
in town, and it's free." Where will the nation get its Elian fix once
the story is history? 
Miami lawyer Steven Forester, while not wishing to disparage the
priorities of millions of Elian supporters,observed of them, "While they
are worrying about Elian, the Justice Department is about to destroy the
lives of5,000 U.S.-born American children by deporting their parents to
Haiti. ... .It's too bad these kids aren't namedElian." The 3,000
Haitian parents of those 5,000 children came to the United States
fleeing from political persecution in their homeland between 1981 and
1994. Many of them were supporters of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the
popularly elected Haitian leader toppled by a coup in 1991. Following
the leader's ouster, the Clinton administration scorned human rights'
violations in Haiti and campaigned for a global boycott of the nation.
Clinton chastened those who brought down Aristide and were torturing and
killing his supporters. Yet, he allowed the U.S. Coast Guard to form an
interdiction line in the Windward Passage separating Haiti from Cuba. 
Haitian boat people were removed from their vessels and returned to
Port-au-Prince. The U.S. government handed them back to their
tormentors. Desperate for asylum, many Haitians altered documents and
doctored passports to flee their homeland - this time by air - for the
United States. They settled in this country and took jobs. They washed
our cars and cleaned our hotel rooms, drove our taxis and clerked at our
convenience stores. Even now, many of them hold two jobs. Their children
born in the United States automatically became citizens of this nation.
Not so the parents. 

Oddly, in 1997, the U.S. government granted what amounted to blanket
amnesty to Cubans and Nicaraguans who slipped into this country by
scaling border fences or through hazardous passage aboard homemade
rafts. Doing so, the two groups had circumvented the normal immigration
process, as did the Haitians. The Cubans and Nicaraguans have been
pardoned for illegal or improper entry into this country. Regrettably,
many Haitians (who did no more or less) have lived on borrowed time
while the Department of Justice prepares to drop-kick them back to
"Morally, these people did nothing wrong," Forester said of the Haitians
whose cause he has championed for years. "They did what they needed to
do to save their lives. Now the Justice Department wants to destroy
their lives." The children can stay, but their parents must go. 
Many Haitian parents who know the bleak future that awaits their
children in what Forester has called "a Fourth World country," would
rather leave their offspring in the United States. "It is a Solomonic
choice," Forester lamented. 

He believes Attorney General Janet Reno should intercede and block
deportation of the 3000 Haitians. "Janet Reno needs to bite the bullet,
not pass the buck," he said. Five thousand Haitian children, U.S.
citizens all, are praying for that. They are not Elian. Yet their plight
is no less worthy of our attention. If there is a sin in doctoring a
passport to escape persecution, torture and even death, then the United
Statesneeds to rescind the honorary citizenship this nation bestowed on
Raoul Wallenberg in 1981. Wallenberg was granted that rarest of
distinctions because he helped spare as many as 100,000 HungarianJews
from likely extermination. He helped 20,000 of them by counterfeiting
passports. There is a time when the preservation of life makes the
breaking of a law incidental and, we should all hope,worthy of