More Than 200 Haitian Immigrants Come Ashore in Florida...What Now?

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, October 29, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Take a look at these shocking pictures... Haitian men, women and children, even some toddlers -- some estimates that there were 200 people piling off a rickety boat off the coast of Florida. Many were seized by the border patrol. Some slipped away into nearby woods. Even more tried to hop a free ride. These Haitian immigrants are illegal, to be sure, but they are here. And now the big question is, what do we do with them?

Joining us from Miami is Florida state representative Philip Brutus, himself a Haitian-American.

Welcome, Philip.


VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Philip, what do we do with these Haitians? What's your recommendation?

BRUTUS: Well, first of all, they have to be given due process, okay? They came in -- they came ashore, and under the "Wet foot, dry foot" policy, they have to be given the chance to make a claim for asylum and pass a "credible fear" test. And if they do pass that, by law, technically, although it's discretionary, in a way, they need to have a right to (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But given the new policy instituted by the Bush administration since President Bush was elected, we are concerned that they may not be released because we have 250 Haitians who came a year ago, who cleared the "credible fear" threshold and still have not been released. So I think it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) due process, give them a chance to make their claim.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Philip, let me ask you...


VAN SUSTEREN:  Are Haitians treated different, for instance, from Cubans who make their way into this country in the same way?

BRUTUS: Oh, for sure. For sure because there's a double standard here. Of course, we understand that the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1965 gives them the right to become permanent residents within one year of entry. However, Haitians looking at this policy realize (UNINTELLIGIBLE) every time a Haitian comes in, chances are they're going to get repatriated. A Cuban who comes in, they stay.

But I think INS, what it can do within the confines of that act is to at least allow these people the chance to plead their case. In fact, in 1992, there was a Haitian boat that came in and rescued a Cuban boat that was sinking, rescued the Cubans, brought them ashore. Border patrol took the Cubans and returned the Haitians, and that prompted a hunger strike by the NAACP down here, and I was in it for 20 days.

So yes, there is a double standard.

VAN SUSTEREN: Philip, what is the impact in an instance on this on Florida, in terms of the economic, their education? I mean, when you -- I mean, here I realize there are less than 200, but you know, what are the people saying down there?

BRUTUS: Well, the impact (UNINTELLIGIBLE) saying is that Haitians, when they come in, they work hard. They don't collect Welfare. They pay their taxes and they pay their bills. So the impact is minimal, when it comes to how they're going to affect the local economy. But obviously, there are people who are anti-Haitians. There are people who are not happy that I-95 was tied up all today -- all afternoon today. So some folks are saying, "These Haitians, again, they are tying up our lines. They are on our shore. What are we going to do with them?"

But by and large, there are people who are saying, "Look, if something is wrong in that country, the leaders of that country needs to sit down with the leaders of the free world here to try to craft a reasonable solution to this" because this problem is not going to go away until the problem in Haiti is resolved.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what? It seems to me, Philip -- I mean, one of the problems -- I realize that there are some Haitians that have been in custody since December under a similar situation, not related. But you've got to at least sort of compare that to the other problem, where we can't just simply open our borders and let anybody in without at least doing some sort of scrutiny, whether they're entitled to asylum or whatever. I mean, is not the answer that we speed up the due process, I mean, rather than simply discharging them or releasing them into the country.

BRUTUS: Well, there's a question. Nobody's asking for open-border policy for everybody that wants to come in and set up shop. We're saying when they're here, if they have a right -- if they have a credible fear of persecution if they go home, you need to at least allow them to go through the process, make the claim and then go before immigration judge and...


VAN SUSTEREN: Are they not being allowed due process? I mean -- I mean, a Haitian who comes -- who comes in the manner that these Haitians, are they not entitled to a due process, whether or not they are legally entitled to asylum in this country?

BRUTUS: Well, the Haitians (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right now, although they went -- they had some due process because they cleared the "credible fear" process, but they have not been released. Due process -- I mean, look, yes, you may have a claim, but you stay in jail because the immigration laws provide for a mechanism to release people on bond. And they are not being released, even though they have relatives, they have churches, they have other organizations who are ready, willing and able to take them. And understand, when these people get out, even though they're out, they don't have any documents. They can't work unless they get a work permit...

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what...

BRUTUS: ... that you renew every year.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what the problem is, though, Philip, is that, you know -- is that in this country, I mean, a lot of people think we have an extraordinary immigration problem with people coming into this country, in some instances wanting to inflict, you know, danger upon others. So it seems to me -- and I'm going to get the last word on this -- that the idea is to give them due process but to make it happen very fast, so either we send them back or we keep them, but not keep them in detention. I must steal the last word.

Representative Brutus, thank you for joining me.

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