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17600: Lemieux: Herald-Tribune/AP: Flaw in law threatens deportation (fwd)
From: JD Lemieux <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Article published Dec 29, 2003
Flaw in law threatens deportation for Haitian refugees
By KEN THOMAS
Associated Press Writer
NORTH MIAMI, Fla. Nearly a decade after leaving Haiti,
Rigaud Rene ends each day with a prayer. He gives thanks
for his wife and young son and their life in America - and
prays that their time together will endure.
Rene, a former political activist on the island, faces
deportation following a lengthy legal battle with
He says deportation would devastate his family, forcing him
to take his 1 1/2-year-old American-born son to Haiti and
leave behind his wife. He also will lose a job that helps
him send about $300 a month to support family members in
"Some people pray to Jesus for miracles," Rene said during
a recent interview. "They are not more special than me. So
I hope that God can help me, too."
Rene, 41, is one of about 3,000 Haitian migrants ensnared
in what activists call a flaw in a 1998 law to help provide
permanent residency - called green cards - to illegal
aliens from Haiti who lived in the United States before
The bill didn't include waivers for Haitian migrants known
as "airplane refugees" who used forged documents to flee
revengeful abuses and killings in the impoverished island
after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country's first
freely elected leader, was deposed in a 1991 coup by Gen.
In Rene's case, immigration officials have maintained that
the altered documents make him ineligible to live here
legally because he committed fraud to enter the country.
But local activists contend that pro-Aristide Haitians
arriving by air had to use altered documents to escape
possible harm in Haiti because the U.S. Coast Guard was
interdicting refugees who came by sea and returning them.
"All these people knew they were being looked for," said
Steven Forester, a senior policy advocate for the Haitian
Women of Miami, a nonprofit organization. "If you're being
looked for by a regime that's chopping people's faces off,
you don't get into a boat."
Those who worked on the 1998 Haitian bill said the
"airplane refugees" were not supposed to be left out. Paul
Virtue, who served as general counsel at the former INS in
1998-99, said he thought "it was an oversight that they
"I don't think anyone really thought about the problem that
people would face who came by aircraft," Virtue said.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees
immigration, declined comment on Rene's case. But Dan Kane,
a department spokesman, stressed that every case is judged
on the individual merits of an applicant's arguments.
Rene initially sought asylum when he first entered the
United States in 1994 but was ordered deported by an
immigration judge for using a forged passport. His appeal
was pending when Congress passed the 1998 law to help
Haitians. Rene sought a green card under the new law but
his claim again was rejected in July 2001.
He appealed the decision and Tuesday his case was sent back
to be reheard by an immigration judge. But Aristide's
return to power has weakened his argument in the past and
his lawyer cautions that Rene could be deported at any
"It's very desperate. They could pick him up today," said
Clarel Cyriaque, a Miami lawyer handling Rene's case.
Rene tried to get a green card through his wife, Sonie
Octalus, who came here in 1996 and is a legal permanent
resident, but the family failed to demonstrate deporting
him would result in an "extreme hardship."
U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Miami Democrat, introduced
legislation in October to expand the Haitian law to include
those who arrived by air and to prevent the government from
deporting anyone with a pending application. But Meek said
it faces an uncertain future.
Meek said "the only real flicker of light" would come if
the Bush administration embraces Homeland Security
Secretary Tom Ridge's recent suggestion of support for an
amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Thousands of Haitians have applied for green cards under
the 1998 Hatian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act. But the
majority of the cases have yet to be adjudicated. A U.S.
General Accounting Office report in October found that more
than 11,000 of the 37,851 applications have been approved.
Rene was an active Aristide supporter when the Haitian
priest ran for president in 1990. He led 300 Aristide
supporters in his hometown of Le Borgne and joined the
pro-Aristide National Front for Change in Democracy. He
passed out leaflets and photos supporting Aristide.
A month after the coup, Rene said he was visited at his
home by five members of the military. The men, who were
carrying revolvers, threatened him and pushed him around,
according to court documents. Rene then went into hiding
for two years, staying with a friend in the northern city
"I was scared to go back to Le Borgne. If I go back to Le
Borgne, anything could happen," he recalled.
He fled Haiti for the Bahamas by boat in early 1994 and
then used forged documents to fly to Miami International
Airport in May 1994, months before Aristide was returned to
Rene has built a new life in America, learning English at a
local Catholic church, working as a deli clerk at a Miami
Beach grocery store and taking night classes to earn a GED
Rene married Octalus in February 2001. Their son, Rikinson,
was born the following year. The family lives in a small
one-bedroom apartment, where a small bed sits in a cramped
living room cooled by a white box fan.
If Rene is deported, the couple will send Rikinson with him
because Octalus doesn't drive, has no other relatives in
the area and speaks limited English. But the decision has
"If they send him to Haiti, it's like telling me I might as
well go to Haiti, too," Octalus said, through a translator
in her native Creole.
The couple also wonders how they'll support their families
in Haiti if Rene is deported. Rene sends about $300 a month
to support two other children, two sisters and his mother;
His wife sends $500 a month to six sisters on the island,
paying their rent, school tuition and clothing.
The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates
Haitians living in the U.S. send between $700 million to
$800 million to Haiti every year. Forester, of Haitian
Women of Miami, worries about the impact on families in
Haiti who lose financial support when relatives are
"If they really want to send a message not to flee, what
they're doing by deporting these people is causing the very
migration outflow that they say they're trying to prevent,"
A man of faith, Rene says his hopes have been reduced to
prayer. Prayer, he quips, is another part of the American
"In God We Trust," Rene said with a smile. "That's what the
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