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a494: Unease grips rescued Haitians (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Published Saturday, January 19, 2002

Unease grips rescued Haitians
Activists deride lack of counsel

Haitian activists and immigration lawyers voiced concerns on Friday that few
of the 187 Haitians rescued last month from a foundering boat will have
access to legal counsel as their claims for asylum are examined in
immigration proceedings.

Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center,
said that she and other attorneys believe most of the men, women and
children -- detained in four separate South Florida locations -- have passed
their interviews to determine if they have a ``credible fear'' of
persecution if returned to Haiti.

The interview with an immigration officer is the first hurdle for asylum
seekers before more formal court hearings.


But Little, and members of the Haitian community appearing at a press
conference, said they believe there has been a shift in INS policy in the
Miami district so that Haitians are not released on parole after they have
passed the first test, which is standard practice with other nationalities.
Under current law, asylum seekers can be detained while their cases are
pending. But individual INS districts have discretion to release asylum
seekers before their cases are resolved.

Little claimed the policy is tied to the fear on the part of U.S. officials
that release would prompt a wave of migration fueled by ongoing political
turmoil in Haiti.

The press conference was followed by a protest later in the day in front of
the INS offices on Biscayne Boulevard.

Karen Kraushaar, a spokesperson dealing with Haitian issues at INS
headquarters in Washington, said that INS does not formulate policy geared
to nationality. She said all immigration cases are ``decided on an
individual, case by case basis.''


Little, citing a need for lawyers to help the Haitians win their cases, said
Miami-area immigration attorneys already have a heavy caseload because of
stepped up INS detentions after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Asylum seekers usually have about a year to find lawyers and prepare their
cases after parole is granted.

But in the case of the Haitians, Little said, continued detention means that
their cases are expedited so that they could be in court within weeks,
perhaps without legal representation.

Jean-Robert Lafortune, president of the Haitian-American Grassroots
Coalition, released a copy of a letter he sent to INS Commissioner James
Ziglar on Dec. 12 expressing alarm over the fate of 16 minors among the
boatload of migrants.

He said that while the community praised the quick release of 18 adults
among the 187 who swam to shore, it ``is outraged nevertheless by the way
your agency has isolated the refugees so they could not speak with community
leaders and have access to counsel as they were being interviewed by federal


Lafortune also appealed to the INS to release the names of those being held
so that family members could know their whereabouts.

``We have many unanswered questions from INS,'' he said. ``What is the merit
in incarcerating indefinitely a three-month old infant? What is the merit in
incarcerating unaccompanied minors whose only crime is to seek freedom and
refuge in the land of the free?''

Max Rameau of Brothers of the Same Mind said U.S. policy toward Haitians
``has crossed the line of all that is right and fair.'' He said it reflects
``racial and ethnic bias. Discrimination is wrong, and morally

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