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a605: Haitian advocates blast INS on detention of asylum-seekers(fwd)
From: JD Lemieux
Haitian advocates blast INS on detention of asylum-seekers
By Jody A. Benjamin
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4530.
Copyright (c) 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel