It was an unforgettable image.
More than 200 Haitians jumped from the boat, scurried onto the Florida shore and ran through traffic, begging for rides. Moments later, they were rounded up by police and sat gulping down fresh drinks of water. Soon after, they were hustled off to detention centers.
The thought of what happens to these refugees when the cameras are turned off has become a central point of discussion for some USF students.
On Tuesday, a group of about 40 looked on as Black Student Union Political Action Chairman Esque Dollar held a press conference about the Haitian issue.
The conference introduced a student call to action that expressed displeasure about the treatment of the protesters during the Nov. 2 visit of President George W. Bush and, especially, about the treatment of Haitian refugees.
At issue, according to the call-to-action statement, is the treatment of those Haitians who landed near Miami on Oct. 29. The refugees, after being immediately sent to detention centers, were, according to the statement, “denied full participation to the American immigration process.”
The statement further protests the current policy that “immorally targets Haitian immigrants and not immigrants of other nations.” Included in the policy is the current “wet foot/dry foot” rule.
In accordance with the rule, if a boat of Cuban refugees were to reach American soil and the people on the boat successfully set foot on land, they are considered “political refugees” and allowed entrance. If Haitians, however, successfully make it to land, they are considered “economic refugees” and not given the same entrance rights.
That, said government and international affairs professor and press conference speaker Harry Vanden, is why citizens need to fight the current U.S. policy.
In the shadow of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on campus, Vanden quoted the assassinated civil rights activist.
“It says on the bottom of this statue ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,'” Vanden said. “When Haitians are mistreated, it’s a threat not just to Haitians, it’s a threat to all people and must not be tolerated.”
Vanden said he wants to see Haitians treated the same way as other immigrants.
Roland Victor, conference participant and former president for Club Creole, echoed Vanden’s comments, saying that he, too, is upset by policy differences.
“Haitians are being singled out. This policy is very discriminatory toward them,” Victor said. “So far we (have been offered) no valid reason or explanation for this cruel or unusual treatment.”
Victor said he agrees with Immigration and Naturalization Services comments that say immigration must be controlled to quell what could become a mass exodus. What he is upset about, he said, is how Haitians are treated while being processed.
“Should they be treated like animals?” Victor said. “(The wet foot/dry foot) policy should be applied to all refugees. We are not asking for special treatment. We are simply asking for equal treatment.”
Victor said part of the unfair treatment is the detention process Haitians face while awaiting an asylum decision. Victor said the process is not casual, and that many are placed in a maximum security prison.
“The Haitians, they are not criminals, they are not terrorists, but people who are coming into the land of the free just like any other refugees,” Victor said.
Also participating in conference was the Latin American Student Association.
The call to action provided a list for students who are upset about the treatment of Haitians. It asks participants to write to newspapers and politicians, as well as communicating with community members.
In addition, the statement calls for a planned protest at an undetermined date.