Monday, April 24, 2006
HAITIAN IMMIGRANTS TAKE TO THE STREETS OF MIAMI
Immigration rules are vastly different depending on what nation you are from. While Cubans are allowed to stay in the country if they make it to U.S. soil, regardless of how they arrived here and their legal status, Haitian refugees are required to show proof of being unjustly jailed even though they often leave their country with only the clothes on their back. And all Haitians, including children, are automatically detained if they are caught without documentation, while most other illegal immigrants are released on bond to family members. Canadians and Europeans, almost universally, can qualify for National Visas or Visa waivers allowing them to work in the United States and come and go as they please. Meanwhile there are caps on annual citizenships granted for immigrants from Mexico and the Philippines and it can take several years for their applications to be seen, let alone approved.
So although being an immigrant from amost anywhere is not easy in this country, Haitian immigrants have for years been the subject of overt discrimination in immigration and asylum matters. Saturday thousands took to the streets of Miami in protest.
The following article is from the Miami Herald.
Thousands march for Haitian rights
Protesters marched through North Miami to protest what they call an unjust policy toward Haitian immigrants.
BY PETER BAILEY
Marching in sync to the sound of beating drums and Haitian folk songs, more than 4,000 protesters filled North Miami's streets Saturday afternoon to denounce U.S. immigration policy toward Haitians.
In the shadow of the federal government's regional immigration offices at 79th Street and Biscayne, the crowd of mostly Haitians flooded the busy boulevard, swaying in political unison to the rhythm of black pride rooted in the world's first black republic -- now broken by poverty.
`NO LONGER INVISIBLE'
Centered at the front lines of their crusade is a long-standing demand: that all Haitians be granted temporary protected status, or TPS, which permits immigrants from a handful of countries in crisis to remain in the United States as lawful residents.
Again and again Saturday, the chant -- ''We Want TPS!'' -- echoed throughout North Miami's streets.
''We're gonna fight to make sure there are no second-class citizens. . . . Haitians will no longer go invisible!'' bellowed Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, a national organization representing nearly two million workers.
Medina was one of several civic leaders who organized the rally with other groups to protest what they call the unjust policies toward Haitian immigrants that began with the Clinton administration.
''We just want justice for the Haitian people. . . . We've waited for too long,'' local Haitian activist Ronald A. Brisé said.
Currently, the Department of Homeland Security, which has authority over the TPS program, grants temporary legal status to immigrants from Burundi, El Salvador, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan.
Immigrants from Haiti have never been granted such status under TPS, which Congress first approved in 1990.
TPS is authorized for those immigrants who are forced to flee their home countries because of armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions.
Brisé says Haitians meet every condition. ''Look at Haiti, and ask why we're sent back home,'' he said.
Standing atop a van, Jack Lieberman, of the American Jewish Congress, gave the crowd a more forthright answer: ``It's racism. . . . If they allow the Cubans to stay, why are the Haitians kicked out!''
Cubans are not eligible for TPS. Those Cubans who attempt to enter the United States illegally can receive legal residency if they make it to dry land. If they are stopped at sea, they usually are returned to Cuba.
Hundreds of protesters hoisted Haitian flags as they approached 79th Street and Biscayne, and another chant of ''We Want TPS!'' rose from the crowd.
A sense of urgency filled the air, prompting bystanders to follow the procession. One store employee jumped from behind his cash register to join ranks. Among the protesters was Mary Simeon, 42, who knows firsthand of the Haitian struggle for citizenship.
She fled her homeland 11 years ago and now works in a seafood restaurant in Coral Springs. She said Miami will offer a better life for her U.S.-born daughters -- Gina, 7, and Gesula, 5 -- both of whom joined their mother in the march.
''Haiti was hard, but I came here and did well . . . and now I'm a citizen,'' said the elder Simeon. ``I want the same for my people.''
''I'm proud to be Haitian!'' yelled her daughter, Gina.
For countless others, the protest was more personal.
The words ''I need my dad here with me, not back in Haiti,'' was emblazoned across one pink-colored poster raised high above the crowd.