Florida, upset with Washington's apparent indifference toward its burden of refugees, has taken matters into its own hands by launching its own "foreign policy" to deal with the waves of Haitians washing up on its shores.
Gov. Bob Graham paid a state visit in September to Haiti's president for life, Jean Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, to deliver the message that Florida wanted him to keep Haitians at home.
Last month, Graham dispatched a special mission of bureaucrats and business executives to Haiti to scout investments in order to create jobs and grapple with root causes of the exodus. Every Haitian who finds a job in Haiti, figures Graham, is one less Haitian for Florida.
In normal times, such actions would be the preserve of Washington diplomats and policy-makers. But these aren't normal times in South Florida, which is coping with the arrival of 180,000 Cuban and Haitian refugees over the past 18 months.
"Imagine all the garbage from that many people," says one official. "Someone has to pay for it, and someone has to pick it up."
So far, that someone is Florida. At a local level, the refugee influx has meant:
* Some Dade County women have given birth in the hallways at Jackson Memorial Hospital because delivery rooms were jammed. One Haitian child is born every six hours at Jackson, which is battling Washington for $6 million in unreimbursed Medicaid costs for refugees. The hospital is considering turning refugees away at the door, which a county official acknowledges would violate state law and leave the Haitians no place to go.
* In one year, the Dade County school system has had to hire teachers and build classrooms for 16,000 refugee children, about one-fifth the total enrolled in District of Columbia public schools.
* The county unemployment rate has doubled to 13 percent from the infusion of unskilled refugees seeking jobs, says Graham, and from the citrus groves come reports of migrants fighting over scarce work.
* Housing is so tight, in a market where the normal vacancy rate is less than one-half of 1 percent, that some Haitians are packed 25 to a room meant for four, resulting in violence among a people that authorities regard as usually gentle.
* The jails are so packed with Cubans from the Mariel boatlift that Dade County finds itself in contempt of a federal court order to stop overcrowding. The county is being fined $1,000 a day; it has appealed.
* The medical examiner has rented a refrigerated van, at $12,000 a year, to accommodate the bodies of unidentified aliens slain in shootings and knifings. Autopsies on refugees cost the county almost $100,000 last year.
* After hiring 200 recruits last year, an understaffed Miami police force of 820 plans to hire 200 more officers to help fight a crime rate that has jumped 40 percent since the refugee influx. In Little Havana, crime jumped 90 percent in the last eight months of 1980 over the same period the year before, a figure some merchants attribute bitterly to criminals Castro salted into the Mariel boatlift.
So far, the tab for refugees in South Florida comes to $80 million, says Graham, or $6 a year for each taxpayer. The biggest chunk, $34 million, is education, which costs Florida about $2,000 a year per child, not counting special services. Florida has collected only about $300 per refugee child in federal reimbursments.
And Washington's budget-conscious plans to end automatic welfare payments after 18 months to the nation's estimated 343,000 refugees and new entrants mean that Dade County taxpayers could wind up doling out $4 million a month in emergency assistance to 40,000 refugees, says Eileen Maloney, state-federal coordinator for Dade County. That is almost 15 times what Dade has budgeted for such relief next year.
"We've got real problems," she says. "And the sad thing is that we have no control over what the federal government does. We can only try to educate them on the impact and how unfair it is."
Administration officials announced Thursday a plan to target $20 million to states with budgets strained by the Cubans and Haitians. But members of the Florida congressional delegation said that figure came nowhere near what Florida believes it is owed.
"It's nothing we're kicking up our heels about," said the press secretary for Rep. Dante Fascell (D-Fla.). "That money won't even be available until next September, and the administration may change its mind."
While the anxiety is over money, the blame is focused on a perceived failure by, Washington to enforce its immigration policies.
"We're mad as hell," says Graham. "Clearly a state has no legal basis to conduct foreign relations, but we've had to try to influence treaties and get involved in foreign affairs because the federal government has abdicated its responsibilities. We can't just sit back and let Florida just be devastated."
"Let's face it," says Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.). "Florida is getting screwed. The state is the victim of a national immigration policy that let the aliens come on in. Florida never said, 'Welcome.' We've had to get involved in foreign policy because the federal government couldn't--or wouldn't--enforce its immigration laws."
Chiles and other members of the Florida congressional delegation say they spend half their time on the refugee issue, trying to "embarrass" the Reagan administration into paying and standing by a state that is a "victim of its own geography."
Chiles attached a rider to the revenue-sharing bill that got refugees counted as part of the funding formula. That meant $3.5 million for Florida last year. And an amendment Chiles and Rep. Daniel A. Mica (D-Fla.) sponsored to the foreign aid bill requires Haiti to crack down on boat people if it wants to collect $15 million in foreign aid.
Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) says she lectured Haiti's ambassador to Washington "like a Dutch uncle" this fall to work out the interdiction policy that allows the U.S. Coast Guard to turn back Haitian boat people in Haiti's territorial waters.
"I said, 'This is the way it's going to be,' " Hawkins recalls.
Florida is in such a money bind, she gripes, that "we just might have to dig a ditch at our northern border, erect a sign, 'Yankees, Keep Out,' and apply for foreign aid ourselves. Florida is under siege, and it's no fault of our own. It's a national problem, and no one wants to do anything about it."
Her Miami constituents are especially outraged over criminals among the Cuban "Freedom Flotilla" refugees who stalk the streets and tax local police.
"They are terrorists," she says. "They dismember bodies and behead people and leave the pieces by the front door. These are different criminal acts from the common Seven Eleven hit-and-run."
Her solution: ship the Cubans back to Castro even if it means dropping them over Cuba in special parachutes, or contract with a Central American country to house and feed them at much lower cost.
"We are tempted by our own culture to treat everyone alike," she says. "But these are criminals and mental patients from another nation with a different standard of living."
As for the Haitians, she says, "Send them home." Some have accused Hawkins of being heartless to want to "throw them back into the hands of the Duvalier dictatorship," she says. "But Haiti has said they won't be harmed, and I believe them." If Haiti mistreats returnees, she points out, it could lose its foreign aid.
The situation has gotten so bad that the governor dispatched Lt. Gov. Wayne Mixson to Haiti to see what could be done.
Florida agronomists on that trip urged Haiti to practice soil conservation and organize an extension service to educate farmers on how to get more out of their land. An executive of a Florida entertainment park suggested that Haiti could solicit travel writers to dash off puff pieces. A state industrial development expert promised to return with businessmen who would be attracted to Haiti's cheap labor.
One Haitian businessman who listened to the speeches said he hoped "it wasn't just more bull----. We really need help."
But the crux of the Floridians' problem is summed up by a poor sugar-cane cutter who saw the entourage.
"Ah, Florida," he said, then paused. "Haiti is quite hard. I don't make much money growing bananas and coffee. I would like to go to Miami, but I can't afford a ticket."