Miami: Haitians rally to protest deportations
Hundreds rally outside Bureau of Immigration in Miami January 28 to protest recent surge in arrests and deportations of Haitian immigrants and demand that those fleeing Haiti after last years natural disasters be granted Temporary Protected Status.
BY ERIC SIMPSON
MIAMIHundreds of Haitians rallied across from the Bureau of Immigration building here January 28 to demand justice for all immigrants and refugees, as organizers of the rally put it.
The action, the first of its kind to attract so many protesters since mid 2003, was called in response to what organizers described as a recent surge in arrests and deportations of Haitians the last two months.
In October 2002, immigration agents and police arrested more than 200 Haitians who beached their boat and debarked on the Rickenbacker Causeway near downtown Miami. The mass arrests sparked a wave of protests that lasted until the middle of next year, attracting wide support from unions, youth, and others. But the demonstrations lost steam as authorities kept the asylum-seekers in detention and deported them one by one. Few were able to stay in the United States. The last, David Joseph, was deported late last year, after being held in the Krome detention center for more than two years.
The U.S. government has declared war on all immigrants! said a statement that called the January 28 rally call. It was issued by Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami; Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition; and Veye Yo. Everyday in America, immigrants are arrested, detained, and deported, it continued. Haitian immigrants are treated worst! They are rounded up on the street, school, and even churches!
This statement rang true to many demon
strators, who began rallying at 3:00 p.m. despite intermittent rain squalls. People made their way to the rally as they got off work or school. Many arrived after dark, some still wearing their hard hats from construction sites or dressed in work uniforms from jobs in health care facilities, restaurants, or trucking. A teacher encouraged his students to participate by offering extra credit.
Members of the Negra Hipólita Bolivarian Circle of Miami, an organization that promotes opposition to U.S. intervention in Venezuela, were there too.
Three vanloads of protestors came to the rally from West Palm Beach, about 60 miles up the coast from Miami.
Ten workers from Point Blank Body Armor in Oakland Park, Florida, battled the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic to participatealthough some arrived after the event was over. Several brought their children or friends and family members. One young worker said it was her first rally. Another said she had been participating in Haitian rights rallies since the 1980s. The president, vice president, and secretary of UNITE-HERE Local 25-70, the newly chartered local at Point Blank Body Armor, said they drove down to represent the local at the rally but got stuck in traffic.
Stop the arrests, stop the deportations! protesters chanted. Free the Haitian detainees and grant them Temporary Protected Status (TPS), others said. TPS gives immigrants extended permission to stay and work in the United States, forestalling deportation. It was granted by an act of Congress to tens of thousands of immigrants from Central America in the wake of Hurricane Mitch.
Deportations to Haiti are particularly devastating to workers today, speakers at the rally said, given the widespread unemployment there, the profound damage to the country due to imperialist exploitation and deepened by a series of devastating floods which killed thousands last year, ongoing repression against government opponents since the military coup that ousted the former government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the occupation of the country by foreign troops. Haitians deported from the United States after being charged for criminal offenses are thrown into Haitis brutal prison system, which is overflowing with political prisoners.
Haitians more than qualify for Temporary Protected Status, several of the speakers said.
Cops stop Haitians everywhere
Arrests of immigrants, especially Haitians, are an everyday reality here, with many being stopped on the street and deported for lack of proof of residency status.
They stop Haitians on the street, in the malls, where they work, everywhere, Fresnel Laurent told the press at the protest. I guess were easy to be spotted because were black. They take them and send them back to Haiti.
FANM executive director Marleine Bastien told the St. Petersburg Times that immigration authorities boarded a Miami city bus and asked everyone for their identification. The paper sites several other examples including Rony Francois, a 30-year-old Greyhound bus driver from Dania, Florida, who was stopped by immigration agents on Christmas Eve while on his way to church and thrown in jail. The worker had been in the United States 10 years and was in the process of obtaining residency papers. Hes never been in any trouble, never committed any crime, Merline Francois, his wife, 23, told the St. Petersburg Times. Why arrest someone like that? Other examples include a pastor in West Palm Beach pursuing permanent residency who was arrested in his home, and a handful of Haitians arrested at a Sav-a-Lot grocery store in Orlando as examples. Its a witch hunt, said Bastien.
Jean-Robert Lafortune, president of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that 28 undocumented Haitians are being held at the Krome detention center west of Miami, and face deportation procedures, after being rounded up at bus stops and grocery stores in recent weeks.
The crackdown meshes with a sanitary cordon U.S. Coast Guard vessels have set up off the coast of Haiti, several protesters said, which is stopping many would-be immigrants from reaching the coast of Florida.
According to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Miami, in fiscal year 2004from Oct. 1, 2003, to Sept. 31, 2004there were 753 Haitians deported, compared to 1,019 a year earlier. Speakers at the rally said, however, that the recent surge of reported arrests, which dates back to November, marks a new, harsher phase in detentions and expulsions of Haitians.
A dangerous precedent
At the same time, Washington has set a dangerous precedent in the case of another Haitian immigrant that could be used against naturalized citizens.
On January 5, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta ordered the deportation of Lionel Jean-Baptiste, a Miami restaurant owner who was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1996. The court ruled he was not of good moral character when he applied for citizenship. The ruling was based on a conviction after he became a citizen, for allegedly conspiring to distribute cocaine during the application period.
In many ways its open season on immigrants, Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. For them to go to such lengths as to look back in a record where someone has already been granted citizenship suggests they may be looking at this as a test case.
The January 10 Miami Herald published an article titled Case raises citizen rights issues; A ruling by an appellate court in Atlanta last week could make foreign-born U.S. citizens more vulnerable to revocation of their citizenship.
The article quoted Ira Kurzban, an immigration lawyer and University of Miami adjunct law professor. They are setting a frightening precedent that would allow attacks on peoples citizenship virtually at will on a theory that the government believes they lacked good moral character, Kurzban told the Herald. It means once a foreign nationals citizenship is obtained, it is no longer secure.