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Haitian Worker Testifies She Was Illegally Denied Permit

July 9, 1988

MIAMI (AP) _ A Haitian farmworker testified Friday that she lost her job, cannot support her children and and faces expulsion from the United States because immigration authorities improperly denied her a work permit.

Marie France Jean-Philippe testified in support of a federal suit accusing the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service of illegally denying permits to 14,000 predominantly Haitian and Mexican farmworkers in the Southeast.

The farmworkers face expulsion from the country if they cannot obtain Special Agricultural Workers permits required under the new federal immigration law.

About 125 Haitians sat quietly in the courtroom Friday listening to witnesses testify below a mural depicting Florida’s history, including scenes showing field workers and a benevolent judge.

Ms. Jean-Philippe, 34, testified Friday she arrived in the United States from Haiti on a boat in 1985 and quickly got a job as a picker in Homestead.

″First I worked in lemons, but I didn’t like that - the thorns scratched me and, anyway, I’m allergic to them,″ she said through a Creole interpreter. ″Then I went to the beans. I liked that better.″

She was paid $2.50 a bushel, and sometimes made as much as $200 a week, but worked from 5 a.m. to as late as 9 p.m. during the harvest, she said.

Ms. Jean-Philippe said that like many crew bosses, hers kept few records, paying workers in cash at the end of the week. But when she applied for her work permit with the INS, he supplied affidavits and what documents he had.

The INS interviewer at one point made her bend down to show how she picked beans. But she was denied a permit after the INS called not the crew boss but the farm owner, who did not know her, she said.

Since the permit denial, she has been unable to work to support herself or her three children still living in Haiti, she said.

In the suit filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach County, the Haitian Refugee Center and several farmworkers says the INS has failed to respect Congress’ wishes.

The plaintiffs say Congress intended the INS to accept sworn affidavits as proof that farmworkers met the requirment that they have worked 90 days in U.S. fields prior to the law’s cutoff date.

But the INS says fraud has been rampant and has insisted on documentary evidence, which, the plaintiffs say, often does not exist because crew bosses did not keep records for their illegal workers.

The hearing was expected to conclude Monday. Senior U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins, who is presiding over the case, said he would not rule immediately.

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