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17901: (Hermantin)Miami-Herald- Editorial-OUR OPINION: PRESS FOR APPROVAL OF REP. MEEK' (fwd)



From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Tue, Jan. 13, 2004

A remedy for Haitians
OUR OPINION: PRESS FOR APPROVAL OF REP. MEEK'S BILL

What began as a good-faith effort six years ago to remedy an inequity in how
Haitian immigrants were treated now needs to be remedied. The 1998 Haitian
Refugee Immigration Fairness Act offered legal status to tens of thousands
who arrived before 1995, and for good reason: Many had fled the political
bloodbath following Haiti's 1991 military coup.

The Haitians deserved the opportunity to legalize their status -- just as
did Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans who had fled civil conflict in
the 1980s and were granted relief through NACARA, the Nicaraguan and Central
American Relief Act. Basically, the law allowed these folks to apply for
permanent residency using avenues available before 1996 anti-immigrant laws
took effect.

Fulfilling intent

The Haitian refugee bill has been beneficial, helping to legalize more than
11,000 Haitians. But oversights in the original legislation need to be fixed
if the bill's original intent is to be fulfilled. First, Haitians who
arrived by plane using altered documents shouldn't be denied this relief.
Second, given the glacial pace of processing, children who were included in
their parents' petition for legal status shouldn't lose the chance for
status simply because they became adults in the interim.

Fortunately, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, has introduced legislation to
assure that fairness will prevail. His bill would extend the offer of legal
status to Haitians who arrived by air, bar deportation of anyone with a
pending application and allow for reapplying under the new provisions.

Under the original bill, nearly 40,000 applications for relief were filed
before the deadline in 2000, and about 22,000 have been denied. Meanwhile,
four years after the deadline, some 4,500 are still pending a decision.

Splitting families

Among those waiting is Rigaud Rene of North Miami, who, if deported to
Haiti, would leave his legal permanent-resident wife and their 1 -year-old
U.S.-born son without any income. As The Associated Press reported recently,
Mr. Rene has built a life in his 10 years here. He has learned English,
works at a grocery store and is going to night school to earn his GED. A
pro-Aristide activist, he went into hiding after armed military men
threatened him shortly after the coup. Since arriving here by plane in 1994,
he has been denied both asylum and his Haitian refugee application because
he used a forged passport -- even though international law recognizes that
asylum seekers running for their lives often must use fake documents to
escape persecution. While the Haitian-refugee bill was intended to help
people like Mr. Rene, he could be deported at any time should he lose his
last appeal.

Equally disadvantaged are the children who have become adults while
immigration authorities took years to process their parents petitions.
Haitian youths shouldn't be denied the chance for legal status because of
slow or overwhelmed bureaucracy. That's patently unfair.

It's also why Florida's congressional delegation should support Rep. Meek's
bill, HR 3238, and get it approved when Congress reconvenes later this
month.

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