‘Why couldn’t they just let them come ashore?’
Those were the words of my Haitian friend when news broke of a vessel with over 100 Haitians cap-sizing off the coast of the Turks and Caicos Islands early last week. It was the fourth such confirmed tragedy to occur in the last three years.
In total, close to 80 migrants have been labeled missing, while 15 have been confirmed dead. Over a 100 managed to survive the rough, shark-infested waters.
As these tragedies continue to occur, we are not only losing lives, but individuals with just as much potential as anyone on the American soil they one day hoped to imprint; a potential that washed away with their dreams.
These people dream just like us, but for the simple things. They dream of escaping the poorest country in the western hemisphere. A place that would treat them with less discrimination than the neighbor they share an island with; a place where there’s fresh water; a place where food is more plentiful than guns.
But within some dreams lie danger; a danger that overcomes faith; one that comes in the form of patrol boats and the flawed ‘Wet foot/Dry foot’ policy of the United States.
Since Haitians began arriving on the shores of Florida in the early 1970′s, the U.S has continuously found ways to repatriate them. To date, no nationality has endured the contradictions of American immigration policy as they have.
If it wasn’t trying to negate their argument as political refugees, it has now turned to the idea that Haiti is a hotbed for terrorism. A claim made by former US Attorney General John Ashcroft. Yet, Haiti doesn’t appear on the US terror watch list.
According to American lawmakers, Haitians are ‘economic refugees.’ A term that is ascribed only to them; and the reason why our government claims they aren’t allowed political asylum. The same term, was used to label Honduran and Nicaraguan migrants until Hurricane Mitch devastated the region in 1998.
Since then, these groups, whose countries are in much better economic condition than Haiti, have been placed on TPS (Temporary Protected Status). A program designed to provide safety for illegal aliens who would otherwise return to a ‘war-like’ home country.
But if the qualification for this program is danger, how are Haitians being denied entry? At this point in time, Haiti might as well be defined as danger itself. A place our government has warned us against visiting. But if it’s unsafe for us, how can it be safe for them?
We’ve heard all the stories; the political corruption, kidnappings, rapes and even periodic hurricanes (Jeanne, Flora). Despite all of this, it doesn’t seem like enough for our government. But what does is the state of Florida, the Cubans that inhabit it and the powerful vote that comes along with it.
Since 1996, Cubans have been granted asylum because they are coined ‘political refugees,’ due to living under the Castro regime. But don’t think for one second that it’s a sign of American empathy. There’s just an understanding that Cubans are the only Latino group in this country who can’t be termed politically ‘monolithic.’ A vote that’s coveted on both sides of the aisle; and as evident from last year’s election, can easily go for a Democrat as it once did for a Republican.
But the most avoided aspect of this debate is the one that makes our country the most uncomfortable – the topic of color.
Despite Cubans being ‘minorities,’ you have to wonder if they have any involvement in the rejection of their fellow group. When you look deeper, the poorest people in the Cuban community are the ones who don’t look ‘Blanco;’ the ones that don’t look like they belong on the hit ‘Bravo’ show ‘Miami Social.’
But when I brought the topic of color up with a Cuban friend, he deemed it baseless and argued that Haitians haven’t worked hard enough here. I mentioned, at the same time, the Cuban population of the United States vastly outnumbers the Haitian one. He should know better than anybody that political power doesn’t solely depend on drive, but numbers.
So with immigration a major topic on the horizon for the Obama administration, the debate should not only include the fates of Hispanics, but those of African descent as well.
The first step in this arduous process would be to grant Haitians TPS. A right they should have been afforded decades ago; one that can end the cycle of families being torn apart by this law.
But until that occurs, we can’t call ourselves the land of opportunity. Even though it’s morally wrong, what happens to Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas shouldn’t surprise anyone. But we are the ‘land of opportunity.’ You can’t just grant that opportunity to some, but not to others; especially when there is no significant reason to prevent them from settling here.
In these days of Gates, Crowley and Obama, we are sometimes urged to look past race. We are told to look at facts. But in this case, we can look at both and conclude one thing – that American immigration policy has nothing to do with how wet or dry your feet are, but what color they are when they reach our American shores.
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