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Round table addresses immigration issues

Round table addresses immigration issues

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Round table addresses immigration issues

Dec. 21, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0415}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

TAMPA — For a group of conference and community leaders gathered at a round table on immigration, 6-year-old Sophonie and her 4-year-old brother, Kinsley, made the recent problems Haitian immigrants in Florida have been facing personal.

"I don't want any gifts this Christmas. Can you bring back my mommy and daddy, please?" she pleaded as she addressed the group.

TAMPA — A family together, but divided. Joseph and Murlende Jerome (back left, center) are caring for their niece Sophonie, 6, (bottom right) and nephew Kinsley, 4, (bottom center) after the children's parents were deported to Haiti. Also pictured are the Jerome's children, Angelo, 11, (back right) and Cindy, 10, (bottom left). The family attended the recent round table on immigration. Photo by Janice Buchholz, Photo #05-289.

The children's parents were deported to Haiti in May 2004 because they lacked proper documentation to legally remain in the country. Because Sophonie and Kinsley were born in the United States they were allowed to stay, but it has been hard for them and their family. They have been living with their mother's sister and brother-in-law, who are members of Faith Community Haitian United Methodist Church in Tampa, where the round table was held.

The children's aunt and uncle have become their guardians, while caring for their own children, ages 9 and 10. Other church members are also helping out, but surrogates can't take the place of their mother and father.

That's one of the primary reasons the Round Table on Haitian Immigration was held Oct. 8 at the church. Panel guests included conference and district leaders, as well as immigration attorneys and a representative from Rep. Jim Davis' office.
The group came together to talk about immigration issues plaguing the Haitian community and the myriad of problems that accompany those issues. The session was open to anyone, and others in attendance shared their own immigration issues and asked panel members questions.

Jacques Darius, a Haitian attorney, got right down to the issue.

"We have children growing up without their parents," he said. "We have people who were productive citizens who have now been sent back to a country where 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. This is a country that is not growing. Its gross national product is decreasing. The judicial system is one where people who are enemies of the government are persecuted. This is a situation for disaster. I consider this to be unlawfulness — the splitting of families."

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly Immigration and Naturalization Services) has recently become more aggressive at identifying undocumented persons and people who have let their temporary legal status to remain within the country expire. Officials have arrived at United Methodist churches in the Tampa and Miami areas to check people's identification, resulting in some deportations.

Joseph Jerome and his wife are now caring for his sister-in-law's children in their Riverview home. He said his sister- and brother-in-law applied for political asylum, but were denied. That refusal sent INS officers to their home early one morning.

"These children need their mother and father," he said. "We can't send the children to Haiti. The parents can't move here to be with their children. It's very hard."

Although the children's parents were employed, had their own home and had been in the country for six years, they lacked the proper legal documents.

Jerome is a truck driver, and his wife is a cashier. Both are American citizens. They have been caring for the children since their parents were deported and will continue to do so.

Those attending the round table were concerned other children might not be as fortunate to live with extended family members and could lose a sense of their heritage if forced to live in a foster home where there is little knowledge of their culture.

Susan Infanzon, a social work field instructor at the University of South Florida, suggested establishing a residential group home operated and staffed by Haitians that would be a safe place for children until they are reunited with family members.

"There should be a plan in place if something like this should happen again," she said.

Deportation and the separation of family members that often results are possible because the playing field isn't fair, according to the Rev. Janet Horman, an immigration attorney and pastor of Killian Pines United Methodist Church in Miami.

"We need to show solidarity with others," she said. "Many times people who come to this country do so and take jobs many Americans won't take, like the migrant workers. In South Florida many times they are only deported after the season is over. They work on our behalf, and then they are sent back. That sin is on us. We are using people. It's time to speak truth to empower."

A large component of empowering people is educating them. Panel member Marilyn Beecher is striving to do that through Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), a program of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM).

Beecher is a GBGM church and community worker working in the conference's East Central District. She and the conference's refugee ministries team started the JFON program in Florida earlier this year. It provides clinics people can attend to get answers to questions about immigration issues. People are paired with legal experts who help them through whatever stage of the immigration process they are experiencing. Beecher says JFON is also working toward being an advocate for fair and honest immigration laws.

The group ended the meeting with vows to meet again on the topic in the coming months.

For more information contact Sharon Davis, leader of the Mosaic Cluster of the South Central District, which sponsored the meeting, at


This article relates to Peace with Justice.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.