Double standards for Haitian refugees, or "(Don't) Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor" Part 2
Note: it may seem somewhat random to start a post about the hundreds of recently detained Haitian refugees with clippings from my personal photo album, but just bear with me.
In my humble opinion, when my boyfriend Yves was little, he was just as cute as (if not infinitely cuter than) Elian Gonzalez, as this photo (circa 1978) amply demonstrates:
But apparently Dubya (and Jeb) don't think so. According to a New York Times article about a rally for the detainees :
The Bush administration quietly changed its detention policy on Haitian refugees in December to discourage a feared mass exodus from the impoverished country. Before the change, Haitian immigrants applying for asylum were released into the community while their petitions were processed. Now, they are kept in immigration custody.
A later article ("Renewed Calls for Revising Policy on Haitians") elaborates:
Under a Bush administration policy that does not apply to refugees of any other nationality, Haitians seeking political asylum are held in detention centers pending the dispositions of their cases. All others are deported to Haiti. Civil rights advocates and a growing number of lawmakers from both parties say the policy is discriminatory in part because a separate law allows Cubans who reach the United States shore to remain in the country and to apply for permanent residency in a year.
In other words, refugees from Cuba (or any other country besides Haiti) seeking asylum in the US are free to live in the community during their hearing periods. And chances are, if they made it onto American soil before being picked up by the INS, they will be allowed to stay--what's known as the "wet foot-dry foot" policy.
But people from Haiti of all ages and genders are jailed (often for as long as a year) pending their hearings, which almost invariably end with forced repatriation to Haiti (where they are sometimes jailed for attempting to leave in the first place). No matter if they have wet feet or dry. No matter that thousands of Haitians have died in the attempt to cross to Florida in make-shift rafts and leaking boats. The INS is still detaining 187 Haitian men, women and children who made it to shore last December pending their hearings.
Are we really expected to believe that living in Communist Cuba is grounds for asylum but living in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere (with a history of political turmoil and persecution) is not? It's hard not to agree with human rights advocates and community activists who call the policy racist. The following is from the EFE News Service:
North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin, of Haitian origin, told reporters that immigration officials were discriminating against Haitian asylum seekers. "It's very sad to see the way human beings who are fleeing their country for a better way of life are treated," Celestin said. In reference to the 229 Haitians and three Cubans who arrived Tuesday off the Miami coast following an eight-day journey, he said his countrymen would most likely be deported, while the Cubans would be granted asylum. Human rights activist Edelin Eclond characterized the current U.S. migration policy as discriminatory and racist, saying it denied black Haitians the same treatment given to other groups seeking asylum.
Democratic Representative Carrie Meek was the most outspoken on the issue. From the AP:
"It is plainly and simply a racist policy that singles out black Haitians and denies them the treatment we give other groups seeking asylum," Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) said in a statement. "They imprison Haitians indefinitely; they don't release Haitians into the care of the Haitian community; they don't let Haitians get the help they need to prepare their asylum cases; and then they deport them," Meek said.
Amen. But when Meek challenged Governor Bush to ask his brother to free the refugees, Jeb could only respond vaguely that "I have been assured that these individuals will receive fair and decent treatment by federal authorities."
But as the INS seems to think "fair and decent" and "cruel and unusual" are synonyms, that won't help me sleep at night.
And if you're still wondering why I stuck a faded childhood portrait of my boyfriend at the beginning of this post, my point is that while the case of adorable little Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez and his adventures in American toystores was front-page news, we never see such detailed and sympathetic stories about any of the cute little Haitian children being detained by the INS. And since I didn't have pictures of any of those kids, I had to make do. Yves is actually second-generation (i.e. his parents came from Haiti but he was born in New York) but I just think it's a really adorable picture and I hope he's not too embarassed by it. For the record, he's still just as cute today, only taller.
Refugees cartoon roundup
As you might guess, my next cartoon for the Phoenix will likely be about discrimination against Haitian refugees, but in the meantime I thought I'd give you all an idea of what other cartoonists have been saying on the subject. Rex Babin and Jim Morin weigh in on treatment of Cuban vs. Haitian refugees. Doug Marlette highlights Jeb's fervent wish that all those pesky refugees would just disappear (ironically enough, I seem to recall Mr. Bush was doing a campaign stop in Little Haiti when their ship ran aground).
And then there are a few cartoons that just confuse me. Chip Bok and Jeff Danziger appear to be using the refugees to make comments on the Twilight Zone that is Florida elections, but I'm not sure exactly what those comments are. And if Bruce Beattie is really suggesting that the average American has it even a fraction as rough as the refugees, then I completely and totally disagree.