By Ruth Morris
Posted January 29 2005
Wearing soccer jerseys and draped in satin flags, hundreds of Haitians chanted and sang protest songs in front of Miami's principal immigration building Friday, calling for a moratorium on deportations back to their troubled homeland and railing against "harassment" by immigration agents.
The rally was the largest and loudest by area Haitians in a month-old campaign to stop what they insist is a focused effort by immigration agencies to arrest and deport more Haitians, despite ongoing strife and political unrest back home. Immigration authorities have steadfastly denied allegations of profiling or targeting any particular group.
"We enforce the immigration and customs laws of this country evenly, across the board, irrespective of a person's race, ethnicity or language," sai
d U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara González.
While statistics are hard to come by, stories of predawn arrests and random ID checks have flooded the Haitian community, transmitted across the airwaves of Creole radio stations and in public service announcements.
"They stop Haitians on the street, in the malls, where they work, everywhere," said Fresnel Laurent, 65, leaning against the back of a van at the protest. "I guess we're easy to be spotted, because we're black. They take them and send them back to Haiti."
As he spoke, a man led a protest song. "No, no, no. We won't go," he sang into a microphone, in Creole, as a woman sold homemade peanut brittle on the curb. "Even if you send us we'll come back because America is for all of us."
ICE denied a recent request for data on the number of Haitians deported monthly, but Jean-Robert Lafortune, president of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, said 28 undocumented Haitians were being held at the K
rome detention center west of Miami, and faced deportation procedures, after being rounded up at bus stops and grocery stores in recent weeks. He called for their release while their cases moved forward.
Protesters also sounded a longstanding appeal for Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, which would mean work permits and a shield from removal for Haitians already in the United States, but illegally. The status is awarded to countries struggling with natural disasters and political violence, and many present Friday insisted Haiti's bloody revolt and catastrophic storm damage fit the bill on both counts.
ICE figures show Haitian deportations were down to 753 in 2004, compared with 1,019 in 2003, suggesting that some deportation cases were deferred during the worst of the turmoil. But community leaders think the recent surge in reported arrests, which they date back to early November, marks a new, harsher phase in immigration enforcement.
"This is really a bad moment [to repatriate Ha
itians]," said Nicole Moreta, dressed in a silver gown and rosary beads, and holding up a red tinsel torch, to the Statue of Liberty. "I hope some day I can go home, but we have no president," she said, referring to Haiti's notoriously weak, U.S.-backed interim government. "My hope is gone," she added, beginning to cry. "My hope is gone."
Others crammed onto the sidewalk demanded that Haitians be allowed the same kind of leniency as Cubans, who are eligible for a green card once they set foot on U.S. soil.
"If the U.S. is a place where everyone gets treated equally, why do they send Haitians back?" asked Kenesta Laing, a 19-year-old college student. They're trying to say the Haitians are bad people."
Ruth Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4691.[/quote]
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