Immigration officials have begun a crackdown on what they call a new wave of fraud: Haitians claiming they've had their U.S. immigration papers stolen and can't return to the United States. However, Haitian-rights advocates in Miami say the U.S. government once again has devised a way to keep Haitians out of the country.
"It's just a simple matter of discrimination," said lawyer Cheryl Little of the Haitian Refugee Center.
In the past four months, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service asserts, about 500 Haitians have told pretty much the same story: Thieves, pickpockets, burglars and muggers have made off with their green cards.
"That's a very high incidence of claimed loss of cards," says Dudley Sipprelle, chief of the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.
"It's gotten enormous. More than one would normally expect of a document that has such importance to the individual involved."
Duke Austin, INS spokesman in Washington, said many of the cards are being sold on the black market.
"The problem is that people with valid immigration cards sell them to others to use for entry into the U.S. and then try to get a new card issued to them on the grounds that they lost their original."
The U.S. embassy in Haiti only accepts copies of immigration papers from the INS as proof of legal identities. But most duplicate photographs and fingerprints are stored in Dallas and are not easily accessible.