Originally: Haitians, Cubans Meet Different Fates on U.S. Shores

Haitians, Cubans meet different fates on US shores

By Jim Loney

MIAMI, Nov 12 (Reuters) – The arrival of two groups of Caribbean migrants in the last two weeks has once again spotlighted starkly different U.S. immigration policies toward Haitians and Cubans — policies that experts say are rife with inequity, confusion and misinformation.

On Monday a Cuban pilot snatched a government single-engine mosquito-spraying plane and flew seven relatives the short hop from the communist-ruled island across the Florida Straits to a new life in the United States.

On Oct. 29 more than 200 Haitians who endured a days-long sea voyage to escape the dire poverty of their troubled homeland got within sight of Miami’s beaches, where they leaped from a crowded freighter into the water and struggled ashore.

The Cubans who flew to Key West on Monday are likely to be released into the welcoming arms of Miami relatives within a day, immigration officials said on Tuesday.

But 17 of the Haitians who sailed to within a few feet (metres) of Miami have already been shipped back to Port-au-Prince. Two pregnant women have been released but the rest are imprisoned and will probably be returned to the poorest country in the Americas.

“Haitian asylum seekers who come to the United States should be treated fairly and equally by the world’s leading democracy and defender of human rights,’ said Cheryl Little, a leading advocate for Haitian migrants in Miami.

In fact, U.S. immigration judges have approved the Temporary release of some of the Haitians who arrived last month but the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is appealing the rulings.

“INS contends that to release the group into the community would send a wrong signal back to Haiti that could trigger a mass migration into Florida,” INS spokesman Mario Ortiz said.

Critics say the United States has discriminated against Haitians for decades, fearing an exodus from a politically and economically troubled country. But last December Washington quietly implemented a policy that distinguished illegal Haitian migrants not only from Cubans but from any other nationality by keeping them locked up.

The Bush administration changed that policy last week — not by restoring Haitians’ former rights but by declaring that illegal seaborne migrants from everywhere, except Cuba, would be subjected to the same tough standards as Haitians, meaning detention and expedited deportation proceedings.

“Instead of seizing the opportunity to change a bad directive that went out last December, they are now applying that bad policy across the board,” said Dina Paul Parks, executive director of the New York-based National Coalition for Haitian Rights. “It’s very upsetting.”


Compounding the mistreatment of Haitians is Washington’s contradictory policies, advocates say. The United States is partly responsible for withholding $500 million in aid to Haiti, citing political chaos, yet routinely returns Haitians to that same chaos.

“They are playing both sides against the middle,” said Irwin Stotzky, a University of Miami law professor who has sued the federal government over its treatment of Haitians in the past. “It’s really a bizarre thing. If you want people to stay in Haiti, you would help them. It’s really disingenuous.”

“The truth is they just want to keep Haitians out.”

Policy analysts point to a news conference held by U.S. President George W. Bush last week as an example of U.S. misinformation and confusion on its immigration rules.

Bush was asked about jailing Haitians under circumstances where most migrants would be released to relatives.

“The immigration laws ought to be the same for Haitians and everybody else, except for Cubans. And the difference, of course, is that we don’t send people back to Cuba because they’re going to be persecuted,” he said.

Critics say the president was wrong. The United States routinely sends Cubans back to Cuba under a policy known as “wet feet/dry feet.” If Cubans manage to touch U.S. soil, they generally are allowed to stay. But if they are captured at sea, they go back to the island.

Last year, the U.S. Coast Guard returned to Cuba 654 of the 777 Cubans it caught at sea — nearly 86 percent.

Parks said the United States will never stop Haitians from fleeing political trouble and cannot halt everyone at sea, leaving it no choice but to treat Haitians properly when they get here.

“Interdiction has never worked. People flee when there is chaos. You can’t stop it,” she said. “What the United States can control is the way those folks are treated when they come to the United States — fairly, justly and humanely.”