The Rev. Jesse Jackson, calling the Haitian refugee detention center in Miami "inhumane... a concentration camp," yesterday announced a drive to urge Pope John Paul II to extend his "moral leadership to help alleviate their pain."
Jackson and D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy met earlier in the day with Archbishop Pio Laghi, John Paul II's papal representative in the U.S., to enlist his support. Jackson said that 98 percent of the refugees were Catholic and deserved the same kind of attention the pope has given to the Polish crisis.
A spokesman for Archbishop Laghi, Father Blase Cupich, said that the plight of the Haitians, and all refugees, "is something we have been particularly concerned about already."
At a press conference at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, Fauntroy, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the Haitian refugee situation had reached crisis proportions. Fauntroy described a decision by the U.S. government to send several thousand Haitians to Fort Drum, N.Y., "unconscionable" because of the area's harsh climate in winter.
More than 600 Haitian refugees currently are being held at the Krome Avenue North Detention Center in Miami.Jackson, who recently visited the facility, called it "an ugly scar on the face of American democracy" that the Reagan administration would only force on black refugees.
"If these were 600 Soviet Jews or 600 Polish refugees, the [U.S. government] would not allow them to be kept in those camps," Jackson charged. "There is a Statue of Liberty to greet white refugees and a statute of limitation to delete black refugees," he said, claiming that Haitian refugees have been refused entry to the country and treated poorly if accepted.
Specifically, Jackson says he wants the Krome facility closed and wants to form an ecumenical group of ministers who would "urge the pope to help alleviate the pain of these refugees."
Jackson and Fauntroy were joined at the press conference by Shiloh Pastor Henry Gregory III, who is chairman of the board of Jackson's PUSH organization (People United to Save Humanity), Broadus N. Butler, director of international affairs for the NAACP, and Lemond Godwin, PUSH's director of labor.
Fauntroy and Jackson also scored the Reagan administration on a number of other fronts. "The distance between blacks and the White House is greater than it has been in 50 years," Jackson said.
Fauntroy called a recent Reagan administration decision to return tax-exempt status to schools that discriminate against blacks "the latest blatant effort to retreat on civil rights," and said it is illegal for the government to subsidize segregated facilities.