Best New Law (1999)

Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act

Congress passed this law in October 1998 after an unprecedented bipartisan, multiethnic lobbying campaign conceived in Miami-Dade County. The measure grants green cards to about 50,000 Haitian immigrants living in the United States before 1996. These immigrants, concentrated in South Florida and New York, would otherwise be awaiting deportation today . Congress approved the measure a year after passing a similar bill benefiting Cubans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans -- but excluding Haitians. The effort to push the Haitian act through Congress involved players as diverse as Republicans Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; and Democratic lawmakers Sen. Bob Graham and Rep. Carrie Meek. Behind-the-scenes alliances were equally important and featured powerful lobbyists from both parties, plus leading immigrants' advocates, and a host of Haitian community leaders and activists from all over the country. Perhaps most significantly, it was the first time Miami's Haitian leaders stepped outside Little Haiti to wield influence in national politics.


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