Boston Haitian Reporter
Kennedy, Boston Leaders Condemn US Detention Policy
by Bill Forry
Two hundred Haitian Americans turned out for a hastily organized, yet lively rally on the grounds of the Haitian Multi-Service Center on Oct. 31, in which former U.S. Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, pictured right, led a chorus of Boston voices in a condemnation of U.S. Immigration policy towards Haiti. Prompted by the Oct 28 arrival and detention of more than 200 Haitian refugees in Key Biscayne, Florida, the press conference was aimed at getting President George W. Bush to rescind a 2001 policy change that mandates that Haitian asylum-seekers be detained indefinitely while awaiting hearings.
According to Pierre Imbert, executive director of the Haitian Multi-Service Center in Dorchester, organizers hoped that the press conference would “send a clear message to US administration, telling them that this policy is unfair, unjust and even borders on racism.”
Kennedy, a staunch supporter and close friend of Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide, no longer holds public office, but still commands a formidable bully pulpit, as evidenced by the bevy of media that turned out for the mid-day event.
Kennedy tore into the U.S. policy towards Haiti, calling it “a system of unconscionable wrong.”
“The dual standard in inexplicable, it’s morally wrong, it is hurtful and there are so many hundreds if not thousands of dead Haitians that re floating on the waters because of this terrible policy of unfairness that is our nation’s official policy towards the Haitian people.
“I am embarrassed as an American to have this standard,” Kennedy said.
Further, Kennedy broadened the scope of his outrage to include the withholding of an estimated $500 million in international aide funds that have been blocked y the Bush administration. Kennedy and other claim that blockage amounts to an aide embargo that is strangling the Haitian economy and making dangerous boat crossings more likely.
“You’re not going to let other kinds of businesses to come in and invest in Haiti until you get the public money freed up. The Bush administration continues to hold the money which creates the underlying situation in which people are leaving a Haiti.
“This is a dumb, dumb, dumb policy. It is mean spirited and it is hurtful and it can be changed so easily, if we do what every nation in the Caribbean asks, and every member of the OAS asks: release the money and help the Haitian economy get rebuilt,” Kennedy said.
Also on hand to demand a change in the detention policy was State Rep. Marie St. Fleur (D-Dorchester and Roxbury), who made an impassioned plea for the prisoners’ release.
“I don’t care why they’re coming to our shores,” said St. Fleur. “What sane person do you know who would get into a leaky boat, traverse the ocean from Haiti to the shores of Florida, without being in desperate need?
“Yes, when they come here, we detain them. That’s a nice way of saying we incarcerate them, we jail them. That is what it is. They don’t get to go to detention, like the kids in school. They are put in jail without being given the right to due process, which we all enjoy and covet.”
St. Fleur said that all Haitian asylum-seekers who show credible fear of persecution at home should be released pending their formal hearings, like every other ethnic group that arrives in America illegally.
“Our people, Haitian people are not provided that opportunity. It is discriminatory.”