UM community objects to U.S. treatment of Haitian refugees

One week ago, over 200 Haitian refugees were intercepted along the Rickenbacker Causeway after trying to illegally enter the United States near Key Biscayne.
According to the American statute, often referred to as the “Wet foot, dry foot” policy, Cubans are granted due process if they reach dry land. However, this only applies to refugees who are fleeing for political reasons.
However, since Haiti has been recently deemed a “democracy,” Haitians are classified as economic refugees, and America is not obligated to process them.
U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez told the Sun-Sentinel, “Alien smuggling not only violates our laws, but I think it is well known in our community that it endangers and costs many lives.”
Issues regarding the treatment and likely return of the Haitian migrants have sparked controversy in South Florida communities and among UM students.
“Flying over the island, it looks as if it’s cut in half – the living conditions over there are deplorable. It’s barren and dry, and they suffer from deforestation and limited water supply,” said junior Danaidys Rodriguez, secretary of COISO (Council of International Students and Organizations).
Rodriguez is originally from the Dominican Republic, located on the same island as Haiti, and said she feels that the political issues plaguing Haiti more than meet criteria for admission into the United States.
“Haiti is a very politically unstable country. Every time you turn around they have a new leader who is only there to favor the elite,” she said.
Although most students recognized the importance of limiting entry into the U.S., some expressed concern that screening procedures have been far from equal.
“I don’t think anyone deserves special treatment, but I do believe everyone deserves equal rights. If you’re Cuban and you touch land, you’re allowed to stay,” senior Robert Werblow said. “If you’re Haitian you should be allowed to stay as well.”
Brian Manning, a graduate student and president of the Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Association, discussed his concerns regarding the unfair distinction between political and economical need.
“It should be done on a case-by-case basis. It’s because of the political situation that the economic situation is the way it is,” Manning said. “The government should examine everything before they make a rule.”
“The fact that the U.S. is still putting them through political asylum is ridiculous. If you’re desperate enough to come on a boat for days, then obviously there’s a good reason,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t understand why they need to be held or detained when others can just come in.”
“If they make an effort to come to the states – if they see freedom here – they should be allowed to stay,” said junior Rolicia Bonds, a member of the United Black Students organization.
Sallie Hughes, a journalism professor with concentration in Latin American studies, shared in concerns of equality.
“I understand the concern, especially in South Florida, of massive immigration anywhere from the Caribbean, but to single out one ethnic group over others flies in the face of what we stand for in America,” Hughes said, also mentioning the recurrence of such discrimination throughout American history.
According to Hughes, the Guatemalans applied for asylum in the 1980s but it was never granted. However, they were never imprisoned as the recent Haitian refugees have been.
“We were the last country in this hemisphere to acknowledge Haiti as a free nation,” Hughes said.
Even students who felt the refugees should not remain in the U.S. agreed that conditions should be homogenized for all nationalities.
“If they’re in the country illegally, they need to go back. We need to strengthen our laws and cut down on people sneaking into the country,” said Casey Humphrey, second-year law student. “But it should apply across the board.”
Dr. Thomas Boswell, department chair for the School of International Studies, addressed the issue of discrimination.
“I think our immigration policy is a national disgrace, and it’s been so highly politicized that the Haitians have every right to think that they’ve been discriminated against, but it isn’t racial,” Boswell said.
He explained the concept of America’s favoritism toward Cuba. Apparently, in 1994, the U.S. signed an agreement with Fidel Castro in which he agreed to discourage Cubans from immigrating to the U.S.
In an effort to compensate the local Cuban communities in America, the contract also made provisions stating that any Cuban who made it to dry land would be permitted legal process.
This law did not apply to Haitians or any other nationalities that may seek refuge in America.
Guatemalans, Mexicans and all other illegal immigrants are sent back because they are not covered in the American provisions with Cuba.
“The reason Cubans are given preference is due to the strength of the Cuban political lobby here in America,” Boswell said. “America doesn’t discriminate against the Haitians; they give preference to the Cubans, but it’s unfair to treat the situation in such a wholesale fashion.”
“There is no quick answer to the problems regarding rights of citizenship in America,” Boswell said. “I think we need equal policies for both; however, it’s easier said than done.”