Discrimination Against Haitian Immigrants

A Florida immigration court has granted political asylum to two Haitian men. That's two of the more than 200 Haitians who have been detained since October when their freighter ran onto some ground off Biscayne Bay.

The Haitians have sought political asylum "because of their allegiance to a coalition group opposing Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide....Most of the initial asylum requests from the group of Haitians who arrived Oct. 29 have been denied. The Haitians have had their asylum hearings fast-tracked and found it difficult to get legal representation to help them steer through the process. "

But last week a group of Catholic Bishops wrote to President Bush decrying the continued detention of the Haitians. The Bishops asked the Presidents to allow the immigrants to remain free while waiting for a decision on their asylum requests. In the letter, the Bishops charged it was "indefensible and inequitable" to detain Haitians automatically and deny them access to legal representation. The Bishops contend the Government has failed to articulate ... a "security-based rationale for the continued detention of those who seek only freedom for themselves and their children from political persecution and human rights violations in Haiti."

Last December, President Bush signed an Executive Order declaring a new policy that all immigrants arriving in the U.S. illegally by ship would be detained pending final decisions on their asylum claims. All except Cubans, who under a law passed in 1966, are allowed to remain in the community, with relatives or sponsors. The Executive Order allows the INS to continue to detain the Haitians even after an immigration judge has ordered them released on bail. The Government says it detains Haitians as a deterrent to others in Haitai trying to make the journey to the U.S. Critics attack the discriminatory treatment, asking why Haitians must remain in jail while Cubans are allowed to remain at liberty.

The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center has been providing legal services to the Haitians and others for the past six years. The Government gives them four booths at the Miami Krohn Detention Center in which to meet with clients. Recently the Government took the booths away from the Group, leaving the immigrants with no legal counsel.

We agree with the Bishops that the detention of Haitians is "unfair and morally reprehensible." The Bishops charged in a press statement that "the federal government, through the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, has failed to articulate a compelling moral or security-based rationale for the continued detention of those who seek only freedom for themselves and their children from political persecution and human rights violations in Haiti."

The Haitians have a friend in Florida Senator and potential Democratic presidential nomination contender Bob Graham., who is an outspoken critic of the Administration's policy toward them.

We hope the latest two releases of Haitian asylum seekers marks a change of policy that will be extended to the remaining detained Haitians.

(link via Jim Cappozola of Rittenhouse Review.)

[note: we did the research for this on Lexis late last night and apparently didn't save the source news articles - hopefully we didn't copy directly from them, and if we did, we're sorry--if we did and anyone sends us the source article, we'll edit and provide proper attribution.]

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