- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

MIAMI BEACH — The NAACP politicizes immigration policies for Haitian refugees, but fails to take action, a spokesman for an immigrant group said as the civil rights organization held its first summit yesterday on American-Caribbean relations.

“We want a chance to discuss this issue with the NAACP, rather than to have them sit on a stage, issue a statement and be done with it,” said Jean Robert Lafortune, chairman for the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition.

“You cannot advocate for me if you do not know what my needs are. Come to Miami and don’t talk to me; this is not the way to do this if you are sincere about engaging in this process,” he said, noting that NAACP officials did not respond to his group’s request to meet with them this week.

The NAACP’s Miami-Dade branch president, Brad Brown, said there is some substance to Mr. Lafortune’s complaint, even though the NAACP has agitated loudly for refugee rights for Haitians who come to the United States.

“I have no problems with someone saying that we haven’t done enough,” said Mr. Brown, who went on one of the local Caribbean radio stations here to invite listeners to attend the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s 94th annual convention, which began Sunday.

Under U.S. immigration policy, Haitians and most others who arrive illegally are usually sent immediately back to their country. Cuban refugees who make it to U.S. shores are allowed to stay.

“Things are not solved, their status has not changed, so have we done enough? No,” Mr. Brown said. “But I think this meeting today will ratchet up the level of concern within the NAACP for Haitians and all people from the Caribbean.”

Yesterday’s summit, which was originally scheduled to feature Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, included representatives from Jamaica, Barbados, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, and CARICOM, the Caribbean Community and Common Market grouping.

In Mr. Aristide’s place was Haiti’s minister of tourism, Martine Deverson.

Several of the representatives challenged the NAACP to bring its annual convention to their country to show its commitment to the Caribbean.

Others referred to a “divide” between black Americans and blacks from the Caribbean, a touchy subject among much of the black establishment in the United States.

Some African and Caribbean groups say they are not welcomed into black communities in the United States, which has been hotly disputed by the black establishment in this country.

“We must be careful about this so-called rift, this chasm,” said Ricardo Allicock, general counsel of Jamaica. “We must be sure that when we speak of being divided that we know what we are talking about.”

He asked that the Caribbean community be “embraced just like Colin Powell,” referring to the New York-born secretary of state, who is of Jamaican ancestry.

Mr. Allicock said he hopes that Caribbean immigrants are “assimilated into the African-American community and the wider community to make their own contribution.”

The representatives also pushed the NAACP to lobby the U.S. government to direct more business with the 15 islands that make up CARICOM, as well as with other territories in the region.

The conference was plagued by a late start and lengthy introduction speeches from the participants. Audience members left the hall in a steady procession as the time passed.

About one hour of the scheduled three-hour event was spent on discussions between the representatives.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume at one point urged that the doors to the sparsely filled conference hall be opened and people in the large lobby outside the doors be brought in.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide