News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: Searching, post-Sept. 11, for the American dream

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Recently, when 235 Haitian immigrants risked their lives to cross the Florida Straits in search of freedom, justice, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, America, for these reasons, and for reasons of proximity, was the logical place of their destination.

When authorities intercepted the Haitians and took them to be held at Miami’s Crome Detention Center, their short-lived freedom after they reached Florida sparked a flurry of community and political protests.

African Americans, Haitian Americans, Cuban Americans and an array of politicians and political activists protested the handling of the most recent episode of problematic illegal immigration to Florida. They insisted that American immigration policy toward Haitians should immediately be changed. They want newly arrived illegal immigrants from Haiti released into South Florida’s communities to await legal status as are Cubans who can remain in the United States under “the one foot on shore” rule after coming ashore illegally.

In an article by writers Sarah Eisenhauser and Marc Caputo on Nov. 3, which appeared in The Palm Beach Post, Gov. Jeb Bush partially lent his support to protesters. “We should be compassionate in our treatment,” he said, “but in doing so, we need to recognize that the immigration laws need to be upheld.” When President George Bush signed an executive order directed at curtailing illegal immigration from Haiti, his wish was that lives be saved by discouraging Haitians from making such trips across the Atlantic on unsafe boats.

Raw emotions in the Haitian community were not calmed and they wanted immediate asylum for the detained Haitians.

While all appeals for equal asylum processes for Haitians have validity, the current emotional appeals subjugate important issues of national security and constitutional rule of law.

Despite the fact that former President Clinton fueled the Haitian economy with millions of dollars, some would argue that policies toward Haiti instituted under the Clinton administration are to blame for the political, economic and social conditions that inspire Haitians to flee their homeland.

A short look back even on recent Haitian history would reveal a different story.

In 1964, when the dictator Duvalier declared himself president for life, he routinely and systematically looted the country, killed or exiled his people and deprived ordinary Haitians of basic human liberties. Since then, and despite the United States-backed administration of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti has remained on a slippery slope of economic, political and social disaster.

The quest for freedom is nothing novel to the human spirit. Men have always sought to be free, and thus, compassion for the plight of Haitians is easily rendered.

Yet in the matter of immigration to the United States, unless their quest for freedom is in accord with America’s constitutional laws of democracy, Haitians fleeing their homeland for America are breaking the rule of law.

It is remarkable that since Sept. 11 any community or politician or activist would support the release of illegal immigrants into America’s communities for any reason under any circumstances.

How are Americans, native born, or legal immigrants, to feel safe in their homeland when it is advocated that illegal immigrants from Haiti, or Cuba, or the Dominican Republic, or Mexico, or the Middle East, or Canada, or Jamaica are let to roam freely here at their will?

The irony of this recent Haitian immigration debacle is that in an Aug. 19 speech delivered to his nation, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said, “… the only path to the future for a peaceful Haiti is through the rule of law.” Yet it is the rule of law that has been violated by those Haitians who seek to enter into America illegally.

If citizen demands continue that the rule of law concerning immigration to this country is continuously and blatantly disregarded, American democracy is threatened to reduction by tyranny and anarchy.

For centuries, the oppressed and downtrodden from around the world have sought to migrate to the promises of the American realities of liberty, freedom, equality for all, and a decent, humane standard of life. For one year, the new reality is that if laws concerning the very serious matter of illegal immigration are not adhered to, freedom and all that the U.S. Constitution provides for its citizens will be an ideal more honored than lived.
Terriel R. Byrd, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion and director of urban ministries studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Fla.

    About the Author

  • Terriel Byrd