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a543: Haitian advocates blast INS on detention of asylum-seekers

From: JD Lemieux <lxhaiti@yahoo.com>

Haitian advocates blast INS on detention of

By Jody A. Benjamin
Staff Writer
Posted January 19 2002

Miami resident Herone Julien thought immigration
authorities might release her 17-year-old son, who
arrived unexpectedly from Haiti aboard an American
Airlines flight on New Year's Eve.

But on Friday, she learned that was not to be -- at
least not now. After holding the boy, Herntz Poullard,
for three weeks at Boystown in Miami, the U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service transferred him
1,200 miles to a county jail in York, Pa., she said.

"My son could be robbed or abused. Anything can happen
to him where he is,'' said Julien, 33. "Why don't they
release him to me? I am his mother. I feel too small
to fight this situation.''

Poullard was among 200 Haitians, most of them
asylum-seekers, held at several INS centers in Miami
since a rush of arrivals in December. Immigrant
advocates fumed that the detentions marked a stark
reversal of INS' prior handling of such cases.

"That kid will be completely abandoned to INS' whims
and desires in Pennsylvania,'' said Jean Robert
Lafortune, of the Haitian American Grassroots Council.
"A lot of strange things are going on with immigration
policy as it relates to Haitians. It appears the
[Bush] administration is using the pretext of national
security to implement its conservative agenda.''

On Friday, dozens of union members, relatives and
others joined a rally at INS headquarters in Miami to
demand the Haitians' release.

A spokeswoman at the INS Miami District said she had
been instructed not to comment about the detained
Haitians and referred all calls to the agency's
Washington office. In Washington, spokesman Bill
Strassberger denied that the agency had changed its
handling of Haitian refugees. Haitians interdicted at
sea, or who otherwise arrive in the United States
without proper documents, are placed in a process
known as expedited removal, he said.

"Persons in expedited removal must be detained,''
Strassberger said. "Those who express a credible fear
of being returned do make their case to an immigration
judge. But it is not automatic that they will be
released." Those expressing a credible fear of
persecution typically wait four or five months in
detention before they appear before an immigration
judge, Strassberger said.

The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center said there are
not enough local pro bono attorneys to handle the
cases. Hampered by language and lack of funds, many of
the detained Haitians are effectively being left
without lawyers to file their asylum cases.

The overwhelmed agency has made an appeal to the
American Bar Association and other national legal
groups for emergency help, said its executive
director, Cheryl Little.

"It is my understanding that the Attorney General
[John Ashcroft] himself has ordered that the Haitians
not be released and that their cases be processed as
quickly as possible,'' Little said.

Strassberger said he was unaware of any such order.

Jody A. Benjamin can be reached at
jbenjamin@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4530.

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Copyright  2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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