MIAMI, Fla. – AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson and Bill Lucy, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, joined leaders of Miami’s Haitian community in demanding that the Immigration and Naturalization Service release the nearly 200 Haitian refugees who were interned in a detention center last December.

“We demand their immediate release,” Chavez-Thompson said as she rejected the INS claim that it was still processing the applications of the 183 Haitians, among them 17 children.

The Coast Guard took the group from a floundering vessel on Dec. 3. “All these people want is to be free,” she said. “That’s why they came to the United States in the first place.” Some 300,000 Haitians live in the Miami-Dade County area.

Monica Russo, who chaired the rally, called for equal treatment for all refugees. “The AFL-CIO stands for legalization of all immigrants,” she said.

Russo, president of SEIU 1199 Florida, alternated chants in English and Creole that called for an end to the INS policies that seek to deport the refugees.

Lucy called for “fair and equal treatment” for all immigrants and quoted the poem of Emma Lazarus at the Statue of Liberty: “Those words about sending me your huddled masses yearning to be free apply to Haitians as well as all other immigrants,” he said. “Immigrants – including those brought here against their will – built this country.” Marleine Bastien, president of Haitian Women of Miami, drew cheers when she turned toward the INS building, shaking her fist. “Children shouldn’t be separated from their mothers,” she said. “These families had no Christmas, no New Years. Let them go.”

Bastein said that historically Haitian refugees had a difficult time being granted asylum in the United States. Their first hurdle is a “creditable fear” interview where they must be able to show they face persecution and, even, bodily harm if they are deported. While most immigrants are released on parole after that test, most Haitians remain in custody, a practice that Bastein calls discrimination. “We are discriminated against because we Black,” she said. “It’s racial discrimination, pure and simple.”

Parolees are generally given a year to find legal help in preparing their appeal for asylum. For Haitians the appeals may take place within weeks, thus limiting their ability to make adequate preparation.

The INS has repeatedly refused to provide the names of the detainees to immigrant rights attorneys. “We have many unanswered questions,” Bastein said. What is to be gained from incarcerating a three-month-old infant for an indefinite length of tome? What is gained by incarcerating unaccompanied minors whose only crime is to seek freedom and refuge in this so-called land of the free?”


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries