The INS's Civil Wrongs
I want to commend Jacob Bernstein on his excellent investigative article "Welcome to America. Now Go Home" (January 1). What type of society have we become that defenseless people can be so badly treated?
I think it is important to encourage readers to write to their congressmen and other elected officials expressing their outrage and demanding an outside investigation. Unfortunately, as Mr. Bernstein pointed out, the victims have no way of protesting and the Immigration and Naturalization Service appears to do everything possible to ensure that their actions are not reviewed by anybody.
Young, Single, Hispanic = Deportable
Thank you for Jacob Bernstein's article. My sister went through a very similar situation. She was coming from Peru for the fifth time with my mother to spend Mother's Day and to celebrate my son's first communion. She never made it.
One INS officer literally told my husband (a Metro-Dade police officer) and me that she was being sent back to Peru because she fit the profile: "single, young, and Hispanic." He even added, "If I was the consul who interviewed your sister in Peru, I would have not given her a visa, ever. She fits the profile of people who stay here."
Is this discrimination? Mind you, she had come four other times and she had always gone back within the allotted time; she never worked or committed any crime. She was sent back to Peru after 24 terrible hours. My parents have hired an attorney in Peru, but the American consulate there is not cooperating. I contacted several attorneys, all of whom said they could not do anything.
There has to be a way to stop this injustice! This is something I cannot tolerate.
Editor's note: Owing to a reporting error in "Welcome to America. Now Go Home," Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center executive director Cheryl Little was quoted out of context. While she did say, "It's like Miami International Airport has become a police state," those words should have been attributed to a commissioner of the Organization of American States, not to Little herself. New Times regrets the error.
Penelas Forewarned: Paul's No Patsy
I enjoyed Jim DeFede's article "Style: 10, Substance: 0" (January 1) for two reasons. First, he usually has an interesting perspective on South Florida's political scene. And second, one of the main subjects of the article, Paul Philip, is an old friend and colleague of mine. I had the privilege and pleasure of working both with and for Paul since the early 1970s, including during his final assignment as Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's premier office, Miami.
As Mr. DeFede correctly noted, Paul Philip does look good in a tuxedo. But there are several other qualifications he brings to his new job that many of us would consider more pertinent than his wardrobe. He had a long and distinguished career with the FBI, rising from the rank of street agent to command positions in Detroit, San Juan, FBI headquarters (Washington, D.C.), and Miami. Prior to joining the Bureau, he was a street cop in Washington, D.C., where he learned firsthand the challenges facing police officers in large metropolitan communities. Because of his leadership role in the South Florida law enforcement community, he is well-known, well liked, and highly respected by police chiefs across Miami-Dade County.
Mr. DeFede points out that Paul Philip is "black," a fact that many of us used to overlook since Paul never made an issue of race, only of performance. Another asset that was not mentioned in the article is the fact that Paul Philip is fluent in Spanish, having directed the FBI office in San Juan, Puerto Rico. With these qualifications on his resume, it would be difficult to select a better individual to advise Mayor Alex Penelas on matters involving public safety in a diverse community like Miami-Dade County.
As for selling his image for "$99,500 per year," there is little doubt that Paul Philip could have garnered many times that amount in the private sector if money were his only motivation. I hope Penelas won't view his new appointee as the "Yes-man" Mr. DeFede has portrayed. If he does, he will be making a big mistake, and Paul Philip will be the one to tell him that in no uncertain terms.
Michael H. Boyle
This Nightmare Courtesy of Your Wayward Contractor
In criticizing county officials for the situation in which Ms. Susan Alberti finds herself ("Idiot Wind," January 1), I believe Jacob Bernstein left a great deal of the Hurricane Andrew recovery story untold, and shortchanged New Times readers in the process. Ms. Alberti's situation, while tragic, is not uncommon in South Dade. Sadly, it will most likely happen again to many others in the aftermath of future storms unless citizens learn how to protect themselves, both before and after such an event.
Immediately after the hurricane, FEMA, DERM, and building code changes were proposed and ratified to prevent such extensive damage in the future. Home and business owners attempting to make repairs were compelled to rebuild to higher standards, causing short-term hardships in many cases but providing many long-term benefits to current and subsequent property owners in the form of stronger, safer buildings.
Contractors engaged in hurricane repairs found out that rebuilding to these standards was not as easy as it seemed, and they abandoned projects in large numbers. Homeowners such as Ms. Alberti became the victims of contractors who, in many cases, had understated the scope of the work in permit applications to avoid submitting sealed drawings, and who used private-sector "special inspectors" allowed at the time in lieu of regular county inspectors who would have caught discrepancies had they visited these projects.
Homeowners and regulators alike are frustrated at the inability to hold designers, contractors, and special inspectors accountable for their misdeeds in spite of layers of regulations designed to protect the public. Contractors and others exploited loopholes in those regulations that exist to this day and that will be used by contractors until closed.
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The building department at Miami-Dade County helped thousands of people after the storm, and continues to do so. Many administrative procedures have been put in place to upgrade the level of service the department offers the public, as well as the qualifications of the people providing that service.
I would respectfully suggest that New Times could aid the community immensely by publishing information about the amnesty ordinances as a topic by itself, and by advising citizens of the many pitfalls associated with hiring contractors to do work on their homes, after a storm or under normal circumstances. As many found out after Andrew, it is not as easy as it looks, and homeowners assume considerable liability when they hire contractors to work on their property. Ultimately, the law and the building code hold the property owner responsible for the condition of any particular piece of property, and many citizens are unaware of the tremendous risks involved with doing major repairs, particularly with unlicensed or unqualified individuals. This department offers advice about contractors and home repairs on a regular basis to citizens who call or drop in. The Office of Building Code Compliance does the same thing, although neither department is officially charged with that responsibility.
While we are currently attempting to assist Ms. Alberti in every way possible, the obligation to repair her home lies with the contractor who abandoned her. She and we can deal with the requirements of the building code and how best to proceed from this point, but we are only locking up the barn after the horse has been stolen. Citizens of Miami-Dade County can avoid a similar fate by knowing what the building code requires of them in such situations, by insisting on working with qualified, licensed people who sign enforceable contracts, and by contacting the appropriate regulatory agency at the first sign of trouble.
Lee E. Martin
Department of Planning, Development, and Regulation