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Haiti 2004: Still Waiting To Eat At the Big Table

by Farah M. Jean-Simon

Looking back on 2004, I find myself reflecting on the year that was. Births, deaths, career achievements, and health scares have all brought their share of joy and pain to me and my family. But what stands out the most for me in 2004 is the state of my parents' homeland, Haiti. January 1, 2004 marked the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence, when Haitians slaves lead the only successful slave revolt in North America. I, like many Haitian-Americans, looked forward to 2004. Elaborate celebrations were planned. Many friends and relatives talked about traveling to Haiti for the first time in years. Several African-American cultural and political dignitaries, including Maya Angelou, Danny Glover, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Kwiesi Mfume planned a Royal Caribbean cruise to Haiti, in recognition of Haiti's cultural and historical significance.

But instead of fanfare and fireworks, the nation imploded. In February 2004 rebel forces went on a killing spree from the countryside to the capital city of Port-au-Prince, demanding the removal of controversial president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was ousted from power and an interim government was put in place. Aristide's supporters then became the rebel rousers, demanding his return from exile in Central African Republic. This was just another chapter in Haiti's continued political instability. Later in the year, in Spring 2004, tropical storms dumped gallons of water on Haiti's already fragile landscape. Then in September 2004 Hurricane Jeanne reign of terror ravaged Haiti, leaving thousands dead or missing. Because of severe deforestation in Haiti, the rugged terrain could not sustain the massive amounts of water; as a result, flash floods and mudslides ensued.

To add insult to injury, the Bush administration continued its discriminatory practices towards Haitian nationals. The United States immediately returns Haitian refugees approaching U.S. shores on their makeshift boats. Refugees lucky enough to land in America are subject to indefinite detention in the worse possible conditions in Florida's already crowded immigrant detention centers. Unlike other refugees, Haitian refugees remain detained even after credible fear interviews and filing of asylum applications.

Moreover, the Bush administration has refused to support the granting of Temporary Protected Status to Haitian nationals. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, aliens from certain countries are granted TPS if the Attorney General finds that an ongoing armed conflict within the foreign state threatens the personal safety of such aliens, or if floods, earthquakes or other environmental disaster results in the foreign state being unable to adequately handle the return of nationals from the United States. After meeting certain requirements, undocumented aliens granted TPS are allowed to remain in the United States and obtain employment authorization documents. Nationals of Honduras and Nicaragua recently were granted an 18-month TPS extension more than five years after Hurricane Mitch affected those countries. Between the political violence and the natural disasters that have struck Haiti, thousands have died in Haiti this year alone. Haiti lacks the resources to provide for the basic needs of her 6 million-plus citizens, such as clean water, literacy, even shade from the hot Caribbean sun, let alone the hundreds of Haitians in detention in the U.S. who will inevitably be returned to Haiti.

In our global family, it is time for the United States to stop treating Haiti like the step-child not allowed to eat at the big table. The in-and-out policies of forcing one leader out of power, and supporting another leader is as simplistic as the recipe for Haitian dumplings, or boule. Your mixture too thin? Take out some water and add more flour. Too thick? Add a little more water. A nation as complex as Haiti, especially considering her close proximity to the United States, needs to be addressed with real solutions, with real democracy in mind. At the rate she's going, Haiti will only be allowed to eat on the rusty stool in the backyard near the outhouse.

On January 1, 2005, I sat with my family and enjoyed several bowls of our traditional Independence Day meal: squash soup, or soupe joumou. Before we ate, I said a little prayer for my Haitian compatriots and told them "Kimbe la," "Hang in there." One day you too shall be able to eat at the big table.

About The Author

Farah M. Jean-Simon is the principal of The Law Office of Farah M. Jean-Simon, located in Calumet City, Illinois in Chicago's ethnically and economically diverse South Suburbs. Attorney Jean-Simon concentrates her practice immigration issues, including removal defense, family immigration, and naturalization. Attorney Jean-Simon also handles family law and real estate cases, and she is a volunteer Guardian Ad Litem with the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, representing minors in guardianship cases. Her many community service projects include serving on the executive board of the St. Ailbe's Catholic Church Community Development Corporation and volunteering with the Glass Slipper Project. Attorney Jean-Simon earned her Bachelors of Arts in Political Science from Loyola University Chicago, and her Juris Doctorate from DePaul University College of Law. Born on Chicago's South Side to Haitian immigrants, Attorney Jean-Simon is fluent in Haitian Creole and French.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.