[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

#3470: Have you heard of Sophonie? (fwd)


COLUMN: Have you heard of Sophonie?
2000 Harvard Crimson via U-WIRE                                        
By Christina S.N. Lewis Harvard Crimson  Harvard U.

(U-WIRE) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Sophonie Telcy is a six-year-old girl,
whose mother risked everything to remove her from the tiny island
country of her birth, a country that is wracked by political turmoil and
economic misery. After bringing Sophonie to the United States, her
mother died, leaving Sophonie without care. Unlike a more well-known
young motherless child, Sophonie has drawn no crowds. No marches or
national work boycotts are being held in her honor. No one calls her
survival a "miracle." The public is largely indifferent to Sophonie's
plight because she comes from the island of Haiti rather than the island
of Cuba. The difference between this six-year old-girl from Haiti and
her more famous male counterpart from Cuba is that the latter is deemed
a political refugee, while the former is merely fleeing economic misery.
The gap in treatment between these two children illustrates one of the
most ideologically problematic distinctions in U.S. immigration policy.
As tensions between Cuba and the U.S.  ease and the political climate in
Haiti becomes less stable, America should ease its restrictions against
Haitian immigrants. The poverty and misery in Haiti are so astounding
that the argument to accept Haitian refugees could be made on
humanitarian grounds alone. The country's economic structure has
collapsed. It has no major industries, leading to an unemployment rate
listed between 70 and 85 percent, according to a report two months ago
by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. However, helping people is rarely a
good enough reason for Congress to act.The legislature needs to realize
that Haiti's political climate is the real reason that Haitian refugees
have flooded the coast of South Florida at a daily rate that   reached
into the thousands.  Last week, over 200 Haitian refugees were found
stranded, without food and water, after a failed attempt to escape the
escalating violence in their homeland as elections approach. The stories
that emerge from refugees sound like they have emerged from a war zone.
Some refugees who had been involved with the electoral campaign said
that they had received death threats. "We were in misery," said
Francisco Martinez, a Haitian whose parents were from the Dominican
Republic, to the New York Times last week. "The chiefs in Haiti are
 killing people. They burn down houses."  The most frightening
development was the assassination of a well-known radio commentator,
Jean Dominique, who was one of the few uncensored voices in the country.
Dominique was gunned down by masked assailants outside the station where
he had worked for more than fifteen years. The free and democratic
elections promised by the President, Rene Preval, have been
postponed for months. Since March 29, ten prominent public figures have
been assassinated for political reasons. During a political riot
following the funeral of Dominique, the police reportedly stood by and
did nothing. Haiti is a land where law and order have degenerated. The
country's grip on democracy lies between tenuous to non-existent. Those
who flee fear political retaliation, not just hunger and poverty. Yet
the rule for Haitian refugees who reach the United States is
repatriation. Cubans who reach U.S. soil, however, are often granted
parole status, which allows them to apply for a work visa
immediately and to petition for permanent residency after only a year.
Haitians on Florida's beaches are almost guaranteed being sent home,
Cubans will almost certainly be allowed to stay. Some have denounced the
policy as racist. While the reason for the difference in restrictions is
not exclusively linked to race, the picture these two stories paint of
the difference in immigration regulation begins to smack of preferential
treatment. For too long, the American public has swayed and sighed with
every minor fluctuation in the case of the notorious Elian Gonzalez. His
personal wellbeing is the subject of conversation across Miami-Dade
county. No detail is too small not to warrant mentioning in national
publications. When federal agents forcibly removed him from his Miami
relatives' home, the Associated Press story, carried in major newspapers
(including The Crimson), reported that play-doh was provided so that he
could relieve his stress.The emotional outcry over Elian, a custody case
that has now cost taxpayers over $500,000, is understandable, especially
within the Cuban-American community.However, the American public needs
to reexamine the values that place the case of a Cuban boy so far above
that of a Haitian girl. The war against Communism is ended. Castro no
longer represents a dangerous threat to American national security, (if
it ever did) and the Cuban Embargo may soon be lifted. Meanwhile, the
people of Haiti face political violence, economic hardship and    
little foreign aid, (millions of dollars in much-needed relief are
currently blocked by legislative impasse). Sophonie Telcy is a refugee
who, like Elian, was brought  to America in search of a better life. A
private bill called "For the Relief of Sophonie Telcy," consciously
modeled on a bill written for Elian Gonzales has been sent to
Washington. Like most private bills, It has little chance of passing.
Let us hope that the United States government will begin to treat all
refugeesequally, and that there will soon be television crews and
front-page headlines for this motherless girl from Haiti.