Around the world emotions are stirred by images of people putting
themselves in danger's way to reach a better land - a land holding
out hope of freedom and prosperity.
Such a scenario is just what happened when dozens of Haitians,
many dressed in their Sunday best, jumped overboard just off the
shores of Miami last week in a frantic effort to reach America. The
televised images of would-be immigrants tumbling over a concrete
barrier and desperately trying to hitch rides on the Rickenbacker
Causeway evoked sympathy from many ordinary Americans.
For Haitian activists and immigration advocates, the images
stirred emotions for another reason as well: This event may be a key
test of the Bush administration's recently retooled approach to
handling Haitian refugees.
In virtually all refugee cases - with the well-known exception of
Cuban ones - aliens are deported unless they apply for political
asylum. To start that process, they must demonstrate a "credible
fear" of persecution were they to be repatriated. If they prove
this, asylum seekers are routinely released and given about a year
to prepare their asylum cases.
But not Haitians. Last December, after all but two of a boatload
of 187 Haitians who landed in Miami passed their credible-fear
interview, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)
continued to hold them in detention. Since then, a select few have
been paroled, and about 50 remain in detention - but the vast
majority have been deported.
Now, as signs point to a repeat of this approach with more than
200 new refugees, Miami's immigrant community is feeling heartache.
Some people have questioned why Haitians are treated so differently -
especially when compared with Cubans, who, under a 1966 law, are
virtually entitled to legal residency within a year if they reach
"Why aren't Haitians entitled to the same rights as others?" says
Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy
Center. "Is it because they aren't from a Communist country but a
poor black one? And that Haitians in the United States don't have
any political clout?"
Government officials say that the policy change was based on well-
founded intelligence in Haiti of a potential mass exodus. Indeed,
huge exoduses have occurred before, especially during periods of
extreme political repression. For example, tens of thousands of
Haitians took to the high seas during the 1991-94 military de facto
So far, however, there doesn't appear to be a mass exodus in the