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Haitians Seek Immigration Equality

January 13, 2000

MIAMI (AP) _ Haitian activists staged a mock funeral and protest march Wednesday to draw attention to disparities in the treatment of Haitian and Cuban immigrants who seek asylum in the United States.

The protesters pointed to the international custody battle over Elian Gonzalez, a 6-year-old Cuban boy, and contrasted that with the plight of a pregnant woman whose children were returned to Haiti this month while she remained in the United States.

``We are asking for fairness, equality and due process,″ said Aude Sicard, an activist with the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. ``Haitian children are children too.″

Under U.S. immigration policy, Haitians and others who arrive illegally are sent back to their country. But the Cuban Readjustment Act of 1966 grants any Cuban who reaches American soil the right to stay.

Haitians claim they are routinely sent back to Haiti without being allowed to request a hearing to determine whether they have a ``credible fear″ of persecution in their homeland.

They claim that the return to Haiti of 407 Haitians attempting to enter the United States illegally on New Year’s Day was unfair, especially in light of the fight to keep Elian after he survived an illegal attempt to reach Florida.

In honor of the six people who passengers on the boat from Haiti said died during the journey, the activists staged a mock funeral that was attended by about 300 in Miami’s Little Haiti section. The ceremony was followed by a candlelight march attended by about 3,000 people.

Encel Alcime, a 75-year-old retired Miami-Dade County water department worker, said his fellow Haitian immigrants are treated differently than Cubans because they are black.

``Haitians are taken from the water and sent back right away, which means that they don’t need us here,″ Alcime said.

In the New Year’s trip, Yvena Rhinvil, who is four months pregnant, was one of four people brought to shore for medical reasons. But her children, ages 8 and 9, were among those sent back to Haiti, where they are living with an aunt.

U.S. officials said they weren’t told Rhinvil’s children were with her. ``If we would have known that she had children on board, we would have brought the children with her,″ said Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz.

Activists didn’t believe it.

``That’s a big lie,″ Sicard said. ``All during the trip down back to Haiti, they thought that their mother had died. This is inhuman.″

Rhinvil, 33, has passed the ``credible fear″ standard and is applying for political asylum, a process that can take months.

Cheryl Little, an attorney with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, who is representing Rhinvil, wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, urging them to reunite the family.

Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Russ Bergeron said immigration officials were considering the request.

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