A young Haitian woman, waiting for a pay telephone, gestured carelessly at her concrete block dormitory in the Krome Avenue refugee camp. "Here is our living room," she said sarcastically. "Won't you sit down?"
Along two walls rose 40 gray metal bunks. A group of expressionless women plaited each other's hair. One girl had not left her bed for the day.
A year after the Reagan adminstration's crackdown on illegal aliens, the Krome camp in the parched Everglades is the scene of crushing boredom and boiling frustration.
The 577 Haitians at Krome are among nearly 2,200 detained at 17 locations from upstate New York to Puerto Rico while appealing for asylum in the United States. They are appealing the detention practice in a class-action suit in federal court in Miami, charging that the administration policy unfairly discriminates against Haitians.
In the beginning, Krome was a makeshift camp where blue or yellow and white-striped circus tents made detention look temporary. Last spring, the small staff was neither permanent nor armed.
Today it is both, and Krome resembles a military installation. Two sets of guards stop visitors and check the trunks of their cars. Sprial barbed wire tops the tallest of three rows of chainlink fencing rimming the compound.
Seven armed guards patrolled the perimeter during a recent visit by a reporter.
Escorted visitors had to pass through still a third security gate before entering the barren yard where the Haitians live.
Worried that tensions caused by indefinite detention at Krome could excite Miami's delicate ethnic situation, a new multi-ethnic alliance of Miami leaders has demanded improved conditions at Krome and easing of tough immigration policies.
"The place is a concentration camp," said one Haitian businessman who asked not to be identified.
Attorneys for Haitians said they could document instances of forced labor, beatings and other cases of isolation, and an Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman confirmed that seven "administrative segregation" rooms with two bunks each, toilet facilities and a narrow window are used for discipline and medical isolation.
Refugees who once eagerly flocked around reporters now shun them, and camp officials refuse to permit interviews inside the dormitories.
Men lined up in the huge concrete block dormitory to call outside on one of nine pay phones. Incoming calls were terminated after a December disturbance during which 150 Haitians escaped, and officials believe phone calls helped orchestrate the escapes.
In one corner, men clustered for sick call, mostly with headaches, stomach aches and colds. Physicians and clergy visiting the refugees have reported suicide threats and severe depression. Of several detainees treated at Miami mental health crisis centers, six mentally disturbed Haitians should be released for humanitarian reasons, according to a request by Greater Miami United, the alliance of community leaders.
A queue of men awaited payment at $1 a day--the same as is paid in U.S. prisons--for helping build the $900,000 in recreational facilities approved by the Justice Department at the insistence of Miami leaders.
But some refugees were insulted by the pay. They said they would rather work for nothing.
The facilities nearing completion will include basketball and volleyball courts, a soccer field, a softball diamond, a weight lifting pavilion, covered shelters and, for the first time, some trees.
But the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a Miami Haitian leader, said these changes will make no difference. "What is making the Haitians more desperate is to know they are in jail permanently," he said. "It breaks their spirit . . . They are seeking justice and freedom."