MIGRATION to the United States from Haiti,

which had proceeded at a slow but steady rate until 1980, greatly accelerated in that year. In part because of economic and political conditions in Haiti, but also because of the open-door policy established for the Cubans by President Carter during the Mariel boat lift, citizens of the poorest nation in our hemisphere began to enter Florida in large numbers 18 months ago. Like the Cubans, they have come without papers and without permission. The magnitude and hopelessness of their poverty have driven them to this country. Whether they should be given special congressional permission to stay is a question that needs to be answered soon.

A comprehensive immigration reform bill has recently been introduced in the House and Senate with bipartisan sponsorship. The bill would allow those Haitians who entered the United States before Jan. 1, 1981, in the expectation that they would be granted the same refuge afforded the Cubans, to remain. Passage of this bill would directly benefit about 30,000 Haitians. In addition to these early arrivals, 9,000 others have entered illegally since the beginning of 1981. Some of them--about 6,500-- have been allowed to live temporarily in communities, mostly in Florida; the others have been detained pending a determination of their status.

It is not evidence of racial prejudice for the U.S. government to detain any illegal alien, regardless of color. Some of the Haitians, like the Cubans who came during the same time period, will most likely be allowed to remain in this country. Others who came long after our government had made its opposition clear, will be deported, if it is determined by the INS on an individual basis that they are here for economic rather than political reasons. Unlike the Cubans, they are not prohibited by their native country from returning.

One final distinction between the Cuban and the Haitian groups should be made. The Haitians came voluntarily hoping to better themselves in the land of opportunity and riches. A hostile government had not interspersed among them a large group of convicts and misfits. In an effort to monitor the behavior of Haitian illegal aliens living in south Florida, the Justice Department recently asked the sheriff of Dade County for a report on criminal activity by members of this group. After diligent search, he was able to come up with only two cases: a car theft and a family argument. A history like that should reassure Americans that those Haitians who are allowed to remain will pose no threat to our safety or our peace.