Joe K, immigrants demand release of Haitian refugees
by David Weber
Former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II led a group of Haitian immigrants in calling for President Bush to end his policy of incarcerating Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the United States.
Prompted by the dramatic news footage of some 200 Haitians arriving in a rickety wooden freighter in the waters off Miami Tuesday, Kennedy said the U.S. detention policy singles out Haitians while allowing refugees from other countries to remain free until they have a court hearing on their requests for asylum.
“Nothing could justify the dual standard that has been set for the Haitian people,” Kennedy said at a rally outside the Haitian Multi-Service Center in Dorchester.
“I am embarrassed as an American,” Kennedy said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service said she could not comment “on policy.”
Kennedy also said the Bush administration could do something to help diminish Haitians’ desires to flee their nation -- release $500 million in foreign aid money earmarked to build the Haitian economy.
“It is a dumb, dumb, dumb policy,” Kennedy said about the decision to hold up the money because of concerns about how it will be spent.
State Rep. Marie St. Fleur (D-Dorchester), who was born in Haiti, said the policy of immediately incarcerating Haitians who flee to this country “is discriminatory. It is based on the national origin and -- I dare say -- race.”
The local activists said Boston ahs the nations’ third-largest community of Haitian immigrants, behind Miami and New York City.
Kennedy, who now runs Citizens Energy, has remained supportive of the Haitian community despite his no longer being in public office.