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17616: (Hermantin) Sun-Sentinel-Some Haitian Refugees Face Deportation (fwd)



From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Some Haitian Refugees Face Deportation

By KEN THOMAS
Associated Press Writer
Posted December 30 2003, 1:28 AM EST

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 hopes he can stay.

The U.S. government isn't answering his prayers.

Rene, a former political activist on the island of his birth, faces
deportation because he used forged documents to flee revengeful abuses and
killings in Haiti.

"It's very desperate. They could pick him up today," said Clarel Cyriaque, a
Miami lawyer handling Rene's case. For his part, Rene remains hopeful. "In
God we trust," he said. "That's what the Americans say."

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 to illegal
aliens from Haiti who lived in the United States before 1996.

The bill didn't include waivers for Haitian migrants known as "airplane
refugees" who used forged documents to flee the impoverished island after
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country's first freely elected leader,
was deposed in a 1991 coup.

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
were excluded."

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 said 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 money to support family members in
Haiti.

Rene initially sought asylum when he first entered the United States in 1994
but was ordered deported for using a forged passport. His appeal was pending
when Congress passed the 1998 law. Rene sought a green card under the new
law but his claim again was rejected.

He appealed the decision but Aristide's return to power has weakened his
argument in the past and his lawyer cautions that Rene could be deported at
any moment.

Rene tried to get a green card through his wife, Sonie Octalus, who is a
legal permanent resident, but the family failed to demonstrate deporting him
would result in an "extreme hardship."

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek 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 Haitian
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 passed out leaflets and photos supporting Aristide.

A month after the coup, Rene said he was visited by five members of the
military. The men, who were carrying revolvers, threatened him and pushed
him around, according to court documents. Rene went into hiding for two
years.

He fled Haiti for the Bahamas by boat in early 1994 and then used forged
documents to fly to Miami in May 1994, months before Aristide was returned
to power.

Rene has built a new life in America, learning English, working as a deli
clerk at a Miami Beach grocery store and taking night classes to earn a GED
degree.

He and his wife wonder 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.

The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates Haitians living in
the U.S. send up 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 deported.

"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," he said.

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