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a728: Miami Herald Editorial: Cruel and discriminatory (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Miami Herald Editorial

Posted on Sun, Feb. 10, 2002

Cruel and discriminatory
How the INS treats Haitian asylum seekers

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's Miami District is engaging
in a practice that is discriminatory and inhumane. Since early December, it
has systematically detained Haitian asylum seekers and speeded up their
proceedings, which prevent them from obtaining legal representation and
damages their ability to earn asylum on the merit of their cases.

Significantly, the INS has found each one to have a ''credible fear of
persecution,'' the first hurdle in obtaining political asylum. Advocates
estimate that more than 200 such Haitians are now incarcerated.

Before December, the INS routinely released refugees who passed
credible-fear interviews -- unless they were deemed special security risks
connected to Sept. 11. That is still the case for asylum seekers from
Colombia, Venezuela, Central America and almost any place else -- for
everyone except Haitians.


Even as the INS erects these barriers, political violence in Haiti is on the
rise. There are many examples. One is the recent dismemberment by a
machete-wielding mob of a radio journalist who invited government critics to
speak. That was the fate of news director Brignol Lindor in Petit-Goave on
Dec. 3.

That same day, an overloaded sailboat with 187 Haitians aboard floundered
south of Elliot Key. Usually, when the Coast Guard interdicts Haitians, it
returns them to Haiti without delay. This time, the situation was so
perilous that the Coast Guard brought them ashore to ensure their safety. By
then, 20 Haitians had jumped overboard, and two among them ultimately were
presumed drowned.

Nearly all of the remaining 167 taken into custody passed the credible-fear
test, yet they remain confined. Worse, the Miami INS District has sped up
the asylum proceedings -- again, only for Haitians. This combination of INS
detention and expedited process makes it nearly impossible for any Haitian
to win asylum, regardless of the legitimacy of his or her case.

Imagine trying to prepare your case for asylum -- legal papers, evidence of
political violence, witness affidavits, expert witnesses -- while jailed at
Krome or transfered to another lock-up out of state. You have only a few
weeks until your asylum hearing, instead of the months or years that such
cases often take. You don't have a lawyer -- because immigration and pro
bono lawyers already are overwhelmed with Sept. 11 cases. Then imagine
facing an immigration judge who may determine your fate.

To their credit, the Haitian Lawyers Association, Church World Service,
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center and Catholic Charities Legal Service are
attempting to provide legal services. But they can't possibly do it all, not
in the shortened time frame. According to FIAC executive director Cheryl
Little, a petition for delaying proceedings was turned down by Immigration
Judge Rex J. Ford, who has been assigned to handle these expedited cases and
some Haitians already have been deported.


This policy eeriely harken to the 1980s when Haitians were herded into
immigration courtrooms and given final orders of deportation en masse -- a
practice that ultimately was struck down in federal court. The INS hasn't
clearly stated the reasons for this de facto policy shift. But its actions
are clear. INS wants to deter other Haitians from coming illegally. It is
doing so by practices that ensure that Haitians asylum seekers will be

Asylum exists worldwide for one reason: to offer refuge to desperate people
forced to flee persecution. The fact that political violence in Haiti is
escalating is reason to ensure that Haitian have a fair chance to make their

The INS should be giving credible-fear interviews to all interdicted
Haitians, before repatriating them -- just as it does with Cubans picked up
at sea. It should release Haitian asylum seekers who pass that interview --
allowing them time needed to find counsel and prepare their case. Those
already in custody should be released, and expedited proceedings stopped.

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