HAITIAN REFUGEES: ECONOMIC VICTIMS
The continuing stream of Haitian refugees pouring into southern Florida at the rate of 15,000 a year has far exceeded the holding capacity and resources of the Federal detention camp near the Florida Everglades. At one point a total of 1,247 Haitians were occupying the Krome Avenue Camp which has a holding capacity of 775. The over-burdened facilities have been described by Senator Lawton Chiles as inhumane and unconscionable. Don Flachmeier, director of the Cuba-Haitian Ministry for the Lutheran Ministries of Florida, reported that at a meeting with volunteer resettlement agencies, William F. Alexander, administrator of he Krome Avenue Camp said that they "would get rid of 100 a day by whatever means necessary." The detention camp has been accused of "dumping" Haitian refugees leaving them to fend for themselves without the support of relatives of sponsors. Those refugees put out of the camp are quickly replaced by new arrivals.
In an effort to halt the flow of Haitian refugees, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is subjecting new arrivals to mass, closed-door hearings without the benefit of legal representation and sending them directly back to Haiti. The Federal Government insists that the Haitians as a group are not seeking refuge from political oppression but from economic oppression and thus are not entitled to political asylum. The true motivation, however, of refugees fleeing a country whose poverty is as legendary as its persecution is difficult to determine. Furthermore, the mass hearings do not permit a fair consideration of the particular merits of each case. Attorneys for the Haitian Refugee Center Inc. and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed suit against the INS challenging the agency's procedures as unconstitutional. Testimony submitted in the suit reveals numerous irregularities in the proceedings of the mass-hearings as well as inaccuracies due to poor translations. Expert witnesses testified that the refugees, coming primarily from poor backgrounds, do not understand the upper class Creole vocabulary used by the court translators; legal terms are either translated into French or not translated at all. Since the Reagan administration's new immigration policy grants amnesty to all refugees who arrived before Jan. 1, all the Haitians currently held at the detention camp, as well as 8,500 others who were released since that time to church and family sponsors, stand to be deported as illegal aliens. Lucien Louis, a 21-year old refugee was asked by an immigration judge if he was afraid to go home. "When I said I was afraid to go back," he said, "the interpreter got mad. I changed my mind. I said to the judge that if I had to go back, I would resign myself. But I know it was my death." Whether it's politics or economics, if they don't get out of Haiti, they'll die," said Leticia Goday, director of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. "It's inhumane. We can't send these people to die."
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.