Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haitians’ deaths at sea further fuels immigration debate in U.S.

Haitians’ deaths at sea further fuels immigration debate in US
Published on�May 09, 2007
By Patrick MoserMIAMI, USA (AFP): �Activists pressing for relaxed US immigration policies toward Haitians say the deaths of dozens of migrants in shark-infested waters last week underscore the urgency of the issue.”It gives new impetus to the debate on Haitian immigration,” said Jean-Robert Lafortune of the Miami-based Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition.Haitian President Rene Preval is expected to take up the issue when he meets US President George W. Bush on Wednesday in Washington.

Rescuers have pulled from the sea 54 bodies of people who died when on Friday when a sloop packed with about 150 Haitians trying to sail illegally to the United States capsized just off Providenciales, one of the group of Atlantic islands that make up the Turks and Caicos.

US officials say the deaths demonstrate the perils of the almost 1,000-kilometer (625-mile) journey hundreds of Haitians undertake each year as they flee the poverty- and violence-wracked Caribbean country.

So far this year, the US Coast Guard has intercepted more than 900 Haitians at sea, many of them on overcrowded and often unseaworthy boats.

Lafortune says Friday’s tragedy should be a wake-up call.

For years, immigration activists have been pressing the US administration to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that would protect Haitians in the United States from deportation.

TPS is designed to offer a temporary safe haven to foreigners unable to safely return home because of armed conflict, environmental disaster or other extraordinary and temporary conditions.

“Haiti is a basket case of natural disasters, environmental tragedies and political instability. There is definitely a case for TPS,” says Lafortune.

In January, US Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida drafted legislation designating Haitians as eligible for TPS.

In an open letter to President George W. Bush earlier this month, Hastings, a Democrat, pointed out TPS has been granted to Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador for almost 10 years. “However, at the same time, and under similar dire situations, Haitian migrants have not received similar treatment,” he said, calling the policies “unfair and discriminatory.”

The Haitian Women of Miami advocacy group claims the failure to grant TPS to Haiti is outright “racist.” The vast majority of Haitians are of predominantly African descent.

Immigration groups also contrast the treatment of Haitian migrants with that of Cubans fleeing their communist-run homeland, usually for Florida, which is home to a large and politically influential Cuban-American community.

Under a 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act, popularly known as wet-foot, dry-foot, Cubans who make it to dry land are generally allowed to remain in the United States, while those caught at sea are turned back. Haitians face almost certain deportation whether they reach land or not, prompting critics to call the legislation: “black-foot, white-foot.”

In a case that received widespread publicity, about 101 Haitians arrived on a beach in South Florida on March 28, after a harrowing 22-day voyage on an overcrowded boat, and were taken into custody by immigration authorities.

Two weeks later, as the Haitians awaited deportation, a group of 20 Cuban migrants landed nearby and immigration authorities released them in Miami within 24 hours.

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