Thursday, April 19, 2007

Henri Petithomme’s hunger for justice

Almost lost in this week’s coverage of the new round of violence in Iraq and the latest violent explosion by a frustrated nerd with far too easy access to handguns, was the fact that Haitian-American U.S. Army veteran Henri Petithomme ended his 15 day hunger strike at St. Paul Episcopal Church in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood.

Drinking only liquids, Petithomme was protesting the detention of 101 Haitian migrants who landed at Hallandale Beach, about 15 miles north of downtown Miami, after three weeks at sea in a ramshackle sailboat . Petithomme’s fast also brought into sharp relief the hypocrisy of the so-called “wet foot-dry foot” policy, which as a general rule allows Cuban immigrants to stay in the U.S. to pursue residency once they touch soil (as opposed to being interdicted at sea), though the fate that awaits the vast majority of Haitians is either a direct ticket straight back to Haiti, or imprisonment at a “detention” center. Petithomme has said that he hopes that the U.S. will give temporary legal status to Haitians already in the country. Having reported myself on a heart-wrenching landing of more than two hundred Haitians onto a major Miami causeway on 29 October 2002 - where people aboard an overloaded steamer hemmed in by the U.S. Coast Guard jumped overboard and begged passing motorists to give them rides away - I have long supported changes in U.S. immigration policy vis-à-vis Haitians arriving in the United States. One of South Florida’s U.S. Congressman, Kendrick B. Meek, to his credit, has been leading the call for fairer treatment of Haitians in this regard.

On a different note, next week will mark the "Global Days for Darfur," events around the world from April 23rd-30th to call attention to the escalating violence in Darfur region of Sudan and the continued failure of the international community to adequately respond to the crisis. Including rallies, readings, concerts, vigils and more, it will be week that should involve all people of conscience. More can be learned about the programs in various cities here.

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