A broad coalition of Los Angeles religious, political and civic leaders said Wednesday that it will hold a one-day hunger strike today to protest President Clinton’s policy of sending Haitian refugees back to the embattled nation.
The protest, which will be joined by people in several other major cities, is designed to show solidarity with Randall Robinson, the executive director of the Washington-based TransAfrica foundation who recently ended a 27-day hunger strike directed against the forced repatriation of Haitians.
“The average person has got to take a moral stand,” said the Rev. Louis Chase of Lynwood, who recently visited Haiti. “We are an interdependent world.”
From religious leaders to immigrant-rights activists to members of the City Council, several dozen local activists argued that Clinton’s policy of preventing boatloads of Haitians from reaching U.S. shores is flawed and racist.
“Once again, we are shutting the door based on color,” said Angelo Ancheta of the Coalition for Humane Immigration Reform of Los Angeles.
Thousands of Haitians have fled by boat since the military ousted the country’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in a September, 1991, coup.
Until last weekend, the Clinton Administration’s policy was to block these would-be refugees at sea and return them to Haiti for consideration of their applications for political asylum. Often, those returned were met on the docks by Haitian officials.
On Sunday, Clinton modified the policy, saying intercepted Haitians would soon be interviewed on board ship about their eligibility for political asylum. In a letter to the President, the local group expressed concern about statements by some Clinton aides that the Administration expects that 90% to 95% of all interdicted Haitians will still be returned to Haiti.
City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion Wednesday urging the city to stop doing business with U.S. companies that operate in Haiti. The group members also called for a public boycott of those companies, which include manufacturers of baseballs, electronic goods and clothes.
Among those who joined in opposing the policy were council members Jackie Goldberg, Mike Hernandez, Nate Holden and Rita Walters; the Rev. Cecil R. Murray of First African Methodist Episcopal Church; Joe Hicks, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.