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28603: Hermantin(News)Haitians fear arrests in terrorist-attacks plot could derail immi (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Haitians fear arrests in terrorist-attacks plot could derail immigration bill

By Alva James-Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

July 12, 2006

When federal officials arrested seven men and accused them of plotting terrorist attacks in the United States, many in South Florida's Haitian community felt uneasy.

Two of the men are Haitian nationals, and many Haitians worry some of the others could be of Haitian descent. That troubles many in the community who fear the arrests could derail an immigration bill in the Senate that would allow thousands of undocumented Haitians to legally remain in the country.

Ford Eloge, president of Total Immigration Services, a Lake Worth group that helps immigrants attain citizenship, said distraught mothers called his Creole radio show on WPSP (1190-AM) fearing the immigration status of their children was in jeopardy.

"I heard people crying about it because they believe in the future some of them won't be able to stay here," he said. "This situation has put a cloud over Haiti. It will stop foreigners' travel to Haiti. People would consider Haitians a threat."

Last month, federal authorities arrested Narseal Batiste, Stanley Grant Phanor, Lyglenson Lemorin, Patrick Abraham, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin and Rotschild Augustine. According to a federal indictment, they were al-Qaeda wannabes who planned to blow up the FBI building in Miami and the Sears Tower in Chicago.

The seven alleged would-be terrorists belonged to the Moorish Science Temple, headquartered in a warehouse in Miami's Liberty City neighborhood, according to prosecutors. They are charged with two counts of conspiring to support a terrorist organization, one count of conspiring to destroy buildings and one count of conspiring to wage war against the government.

Abraham was in the United States illegally from Haiti and Lemorin is a legal permanent resident from Haiti, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The others were born in the United States.

"The Haitian community is very concerned that the issue may negatively impact us," said Jean-Robert Lafortune of the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition in Miami. "This is a big concern for the community."

It's not the first time the U.S. government has linked Haitians to terrorism. In 2003, former Attorney General John Ashcroft directed the government to indefinitely detain David Joseph, a 20-year-old who was among more than 200 Haitians aboard a crowded boat who reached Virginia Key a year earlier. Authorities later deported Joseph.

Ashcroft cited national security concerns, but his decision angered some Haitian American activists who accused the attorney general of manipulating the terrorism issue to prevent Haitians from entering the country.

The recent arrests sparked similar fears. "This is only adding fuel to the fire and increasing the feeling that Haitian refugees are linked to terrorists," said Gepsie Metellus, of the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Miami. "We've been down this road before."

Community leaders already were worried the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act was in jeopardy because of the battle over immigration. Passed by Congress in 1998, it grants permanent residency to 49,800 Haitian immigrants who arrived by boat and have been living in the country since Dec. 31, 1995.

The Senate's immigration bill includes language that would expand the act to include Haitians who arrived by plane and children who became adults while their parents' immigration cases were pending.

The bill, if passed, would allow 3,000 to 5,000 undocumented Haitians to remain in the country legally, said U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, who persuaded senators to include the provisions. He said there is no evidence of terrorist cells or training camps in Haiti.

Eloge said most Haitian Americans come to America to build better lives, and they don't want to be viewed as terrorists.

"It's a very heavy label," he said. "It's not ours and we can't carry it."
Copyright  2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel