South Florida activists ask the federal government to give protected status to Haitian migrants while their nation is in crisis.
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
With armed rebels still controlling several towns along Haiti's northern coast, some South Florida community activists are calling on the Bush administration to provide temporary protected status to all Haitians residing here illegally and to place a moratorium on all deportations back to the island.
Temporary protected status is given to nationals of specific countries deemed to be in crisis -- such as Honduras, which has suffered from recurrent natural disasters -- allowing them to work in the United States.
In addition, the activists and two U.S. lawmakers are demanding that the White House take more of a leadership role in resolving the 3-year-old political crisis in Haiti, which has led to a spate of violent uprisings in recent weeks.
''We are against the violence that is going on in Haiti, no matter which side it is coming from. We are for a negotiated solution,'' said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami and a member of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition.
Bastien and immigration attorney Cheryl Little both said they have received calls from several Haitian detainees in recent days expressing fears about their fates should they be deported. The women are being detained at the Broward County Work Release Center in Pompano Beach.
''We are deeply concerned about the Haitians who are detained around the nation,'' Bastien said during a press conference Friday. ``From the information we have received from some of the women at the Broward Work release Center, some of them are actually on hunger strike. We have not been able to confirm that, but we are deeply concerned about this news.''
Nina Pruneda, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Miami, said immigration officials are aware that some of the women had stopped eating after receiving news that relatives had died in Haiti. She said the women are eating again and the department is monitoring the situation.
A call to the White House seeking comment on the activists' plea was not immediately returned.
Bill Strassberger, a Homeland Security spokesman in Washington, D.C., said decisions about Temporary Protected Status are usually made by the U.S. attorney general in consultation with other federal agencies and based on a country's conditions.
NO POLICY CHANGE
To his knowledge, he said, there have been no recent changes in U.S. immigration law regarding Haiti and he isn't ''aware of any plans to make a change at this time.'' Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, both Democrats, wrote letters to the president demanding more involvement by the United States to prevent a mass exodus from the Caribbean nation.
''The U.S. has to lead the effort in Haiti,'' Nelson said in a telephone interview after the press conference. ``Our policy has been hands off.''