- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

NORTH MIAMI, Fla. (AP) — Nearly a decade after leaving Haiti, Rigaud Rene ends each day with a prayer. He gives thanks for his wife and young son and their life in America — and hopes he can stay.

The U.S. government isn’t answering his prayers.

Mr. Rene, a former political activist on the island of his birth, faces deportation because he used forged documents to flee revengeful abuses and killings in Haiti.

“It’s very desperate. They could pick him up today,” said Clarel Cyriaque, a Miami lawyer handling Mr. Rene’s case.

For his part, Mr. Rene remains hopeful. “In God we trust,” he said. “That’s what the Americans say.”

Mr. Rene, 41, is one of about 3,000 Haitian migrants ensnared in what activists call a flaw in a 1998 law to help provide permanent residency to illegal aliens from Haiti who lived in the United States before 1996.

The bill didn’t include waivers for Haitian migrants known as “airplane refugees” who used forged documents to flee the impoverished island after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country’s first freely elected leader, was deposed in a 1991 coup.

In Mr. Rene’s case, immigration officials have maintained that the altered documents make him ineligible to live here legally because he committed fraud to enter the country.

But local activists contend that pro-Aristide Haitians arriving by air had to use altered documents to escape potential harm in Haiti because the U.S. Coast Guard was interdicting refugees who came by sea and returning them.

“All these people knew they were being looked for,” said Steven Forester, a senior policy advocate for the Haitian Women of Miami, a nonprofit organization. “If you’re being looked for by a regime that’s chopping people’s faces off, you don’t get into a boat.”

Those who worked on the 1998 Haitian bill said the “airplane refugees” were not supposed to be left out. Paul Virtue, who served as general counsel at the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1998-99, said he thought “it was an oversight that they were excluded.”

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration, declined comment on Mr. Rene’s case. But Dan Kane, a department spokesman, stressed that every case is judged on the individual merits of an applicant’s arguments.

Mr. Rene said deportation would devastate his family, forcing him to take his 1-year-old American-born son to Haiti and leave behind his wife. He also will lose a job that helps him send money to support family members in Haiti.

Mr. Rene initially sought asylum when he first entered the United States in 1994 but was ordered deported for using a forged passport. His appeal was pending when Congress passed the 1998 law. Mr. Rene sought a green card under the new law, but his claim again was rejected.

He appealed the decision but Mr. Aristide’s return to power has weakened his argument in the past and his attorney cautions that Mr. Rene could be deported at any moment.

Mr. Rene tried to get a green card through his wife, Sonie Octalus, who is a legal permanent resident, but the family failed to demonstrate deporting him would result in an “extreme hardship.”

Rep. Kendrick B. Meek, Florida Democrat, introduced legislation in October to expand the Haitian law to include those who arrived by air and to prevent the government from deporting anyone with a pending application. But Mr. Meek said it faces an uncertain future.

Thousands of Haitians have applied for green cards under the 1998 Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act. But the majority of the cases have yet to be adjudicated. A U.S. General Accounting Office report in October found that more than 11,000 of the 37,851 applications have been approved.

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