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By Madeline Bar Diaz and Toni Marshall
November 22, 2002
Dark clouds threatened a downpour, but it would have taken more than rain to derail the group of Haitian-Americans preparing their cars to drive to from Broward County to Miami on Thursday to join others rallying to change U.S. immigration policy.
"We are expecting at least 30 cars," said Patrick Jabouin, president of Broward's Caribbean American Democratic Club, while taping a sign on his car parked alongside others that would make up his fleet, and waiting at a parking lot at Oakland Park Boulevard and State Road 7 in Lauderdale Lakes for the signal to go.
A little while later, just before 3 p.m., about 10 cars with at least two people in each took off and made their way down south on S.R. 7, picking up more cars along the way.
At downtown Miami's Torch of Friendship, they joined about 400 people who renewed calls for the release of more than 200 Haitian refugees who arrived in South Florida almost a month ago.
The refugees came to Miami's shores on a ramshackle 50-foot boat and waded to shore in a dramatic episode that was broadcast around the world. Their subsequent detention sparked daily protests, mainly by Haitian-Americans. Except for pregnant women who have been paroled, however, the rest of the immigrants remain in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"The community is extremely frustrated, considering the discriminatory treatment of the Haitians," said Cheryl Little, an attorney and advocate who addressed the crowd Thursday evening.
The rally was held on the same day as similar demonstrations in New York City and other cities, organizers said. Max Rameau, an organizer for Miami's rally, said the South Florida rally was probably the largest.
In Broward, it was the first time various Haitian groups got together to caravan to Miami, Jabouin said.
"We have gone down individually, but we want to start going down as a group," he said, adding that they plan to continue to take caravans to Miami to give support.
Two of the younger protesters talked about the unequal treatment Haitian immigrants receive in the United States.
"They treat us differently than they treat the Cubans," said Peter Honore, 20. He and his friend Steve Emmanuel, 20, took time off from their jobs to join the fleet. "The shade of skin shouldn't make a difference. We share the same blood. Anybody in captivity should be let go."
In Miami, protesters gathered across from the Claude Pepper Federal Building and made their way to the torch outside of Bayside Marketplace, carrying signs that read "Free the Haitian Refugees Now." Marching with them was the Rev. Al Sharpton, who visited about 40 of the Haitians at Krome detention center Thursday. Sharpton said he reassured the detainees that they had broad public support and had not been abandoned. Sharpton led the crowd at the rally in chants of "No Justice. No Peace."
"What is going on is a moral disgrace," Sharpton said. "They're being treated unlike any others that come to this country. We all come together to say you must have one standard for everybody."
Demonstrations were a daily occurrence after the Haitian refugees arrived in late October. Despite all the grass-roots support, the Bush administration announced earlier this month that not only would it continue its policy of using its discretion in indefinitely detaining Haitians as they await the outcome of their political asylum hearings, but that it would apply the same policy to all immigrants arriving by sea, except Cubans, who are covered by different policies that generally allow them to stay if they touch U.S. soil.
Community activists took a few weeks to regroup before organizing another rally, Rameau said.
"The leadership was completely exhausted," he said.
In the meantime, they have been coming up with strategies to boost public pressure and have the refugees released. On Dec. 7, a rally is also planned at INS headquarters.
For Magheurite Charles, one of the protesters, the battle is personal. Some of her relatives were on the boat and although she has been able to speak with them on the phone, she wants them with her.
"They're all alone," she said. "I want them to be let go."
Information from The Associated Press was used to supplement this report.
Madeline Bar Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-810-5007.
Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel