Haiti 'boat people' find no anchor in US
Most Cuban refugees are welcomed into the United States; most haitians are not. This is evident here from the way the federal and local governments treat the increasing flow of new arrivals by boat from the respective Caribbean nations.Skip to next paragraph
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For the moment, most attention is focused on the massive exodus of refugees via the Cuban port of Mariel to Key West. More than 4,500 had arrived by midweek, with one local official estimating 10 times that many may be here before long.
The Cuban refugees are processed by immigration officials, then sent to relatives, friends, or to temporary housing arranged by Dade County officials. Over the years, few Cubans have been deported. Most are allowed to stay as political refugees to avoid the punishment immigration officials say they would face if returned.
By contrast, an estimated 2,000 Haitian refugees have arrived in the US since March, mostly jammed into open boats with little or no food or water.Upon arrival, most are detained by the immigration authorities, reportedly for lack of other housing. And most of the Haitians face deportation.
Immigration officials here are convinced the Haitians face only poverty, not punishment, if they are returned. The Haitians say they face both.
Gerald Jean-Juste, director of the Haitian Refugee Center here, calls the government treatment of his people "a double standard."
Not so, says the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Immigration laws do not allow a would-be refugee coming to the US to stay solely on the basis of being poor. Only if the person has a "well-founded fear of persecution" if returned is he eligible for refugee status, says an INS official.
But until May 15, President Carter has the power to admit Haitians (or other refugees) as a group under expiring provisions of the previous immigration act. INS officials fear a wave of would-be refugees from other poor countries if Haitians are allowed to stay.
In US District Court here, several witnesses have testified that Haitians sent back to their own country are subject to persecution. One witness, who said he served in the Haitian political police (Tonton Macoutes), testified that those who are returned after seeking political asylum in the US are arrested and imprisoned. Often, he said, they are beaten.
Just before concluding an interview with two recently arrived Haitians here, this reporter asked what problems they might face if sent back. Both roared with laughter, as if an obvious point had been missed, and said they were certain to be arrested -- or worse.
But newly arrived Haitians do not mention such dangers in their initial interviews with the INS, says district director Raymond Morris.