THE IDEA OF FAIR REPRESENTATION FOR HAITIAN-AMERICANS CATCHING UP - Creating a Commission District in Miami-Dade with a Haitian Majority! A balancing act to seek common ground with hispanic, anglo and african-americans
Help needed to launch campaign for upcoming referredum in November 2002 about increasing the number of Commission Districts to 15 from 13 to allow fair representation for minorities. Needed: volunteers, money, and innovative ideas ! Can make check or money order to order of HAITIAN-AMERICAN GRASSROOTS COALITION
Post Office Box 381416
Miami, Florida 33238
Several Haitian activists, elected officials and other dignitaries have joined the Haitian_american Grassroots Coalition TASK-FORCE on Redistricting to help galvanize public opinion on the need to create a new district with a Haitian majority in Miami-DAde County. In the balance is the Civil Rights Act of 1965 on the issue of minority representation. Taxation without representation is at the Center of the debate. Major goal is for Haitians to be considered a Community of interest and the creole language to become one of the protected language under the civil rights act of 1965. At this time, the Haitian Community has fulfilled all the criteria to be considered a community of interest. The majority of Haitians lives in a very distinct area. The community is compact, it is contiguous and the residents have shown political cohesiveness in recent and past election. In addition to all these factors, Haitians shared the same cultural and historical heritage, similar concerns in term of immigration status, and similar mores and customs.
When the U.S Civil Rights Commission met in Miami in March 2001 in order to collect testimony from disenfranchized communities on the scandale of the Florida Election, Jean-Robert Lafortune, Chairman of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, urged members of the Commission to consider the Haitian Creole as a protected language under the Civil Rights Act. George Meier, a consultant for Miami-Dade County on the issue of redistricting agreed that Haitians need to take steps either through the U.S Congress and the U.S Census Bureau to be identified as "Haitians" in the next Census. According to a U.S Census survey, it is estimated that in Florida there are over 267,834 Haitians. For many community leaders this number actually falls between 500,000 to 700,000 in the State. In MIami-Dade County alone, some 200,000 Haitian nationals call this place home. Now the Task-Force is scrambling to locate hard data from government institutions like the public schools, the Department of Children and Families to provide to government planners and advisors to justify a District with a Haitian majority.
Are Haitian-Americans, the missing link in Miami-Dade County Politics?
Known for being a multi-ethnic community, Miami-Dade County is still lagging behind in relation to ethnic politics and minority representation. In the county of 13 districts, 7 are hispanics, 4 are anglos and 4 are African-americans. In recent months, some of the County Commissioners have not shown any interest in increasing the number of seats with the understanding of increasing minority representation at County Hall. When the issue came before the Charter review committeee, 4 commissioners expressed their position for maintaining the status quo.
Haitian-Americans have two ways to resolve the current situation if they want representation at County Hall. They can euther challenge each african-american commissioner in every election where they know the odd is against them or they can request the Commission to increase the number of districts to reflect the ethnic diversity of the community. By choosing the latter, the issue has to be put before the voters for a referendum for a charter change.
Since the County is now dealing with the redistricting issue due to population shift in Miami-Dade, Haitian-Americans are now questioning the whole concept and the process of redistricting.
The newly created task-force is building a wide coalition to advocate for representation of Haitian-Americans in the Commission. The big test will come at the end of November 2001 in a public hearing to finalize the redistricting process. Already, a certain number of Haitian-Americans are either in the process or have filed a law suit on the issue. The Task-Force has already retained the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta to assist its members in the area of technical assistance. It has put in place a fundraising committee to raise money to cover expenses.
Who are enthusiastic about a new district with a Haitian majority?
So far, the establishment has not shown any enthusiasm in creating new districts. In the past, insiders at County hall have always discouraged Haitian activists in advocating strongly for the creation of districts designed tobenefit the Haitian community. At this time, the base-map being considered by the County Commission has divided the 44,000 Haitian-American block vote into five different districts: district 1, 2, 3, 4, and 9.
In the meantime, census data published in 2001 shows that non-cuban hipanic total about 50% of the hispanic population in Miami-Dade. They too are looking for self-representation at County hall. Dade County has registered over 300,000 new residents for the past 10 years.
Task - Force on Redistricting has commissioned the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta Giorgia in assisting with technical assistance and the drawing of a new redistricting map with 15 districts to be presented to the Commission at the upcoming public hearing. So far anticipation from the Haitian community is building very strongly and there is no certainty that a positive outcome for a Haitian majority will be a reality very soon. Recent study conducted by local realtors show that in the past 5 years, in North and Central Dade that 3 out 5 houses sold are bought by Haitian nationals. A Haitian majority district is likely to combine the area of LIttle Haiti, El Portal, Miami Shores, the City of North Miami, the City of North Miami Beach and part of unincorporated Dade.
The quest for self-representation has taken community activists to engage the State of Florida Committee on Redistricting to take a strong look at under-representation of Haitian in the State Legislature. Indeed in a public hearing held by this Committee in mid-september, community leaders raised the issue of under-representation and request that the committee take a closer look at District 104 to make it possible for a Haitian - American to be competitive in a race within that district.
The Idea of Fair Representation is Catching up
After months of uncertainty, the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition Task-Force is getting new allied in its quest for fair representation. The Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights under Law has finally joined the campaign of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition Task Force on Redistricting. The Lawyers Committee like ACLU have sent letters to the Miami-Dade County Commissioners supporting the proposal of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition to increase the number of commission districts to 15 from 13. The County's Charter Review Committee had developed 2 proposals. One recommending implementation of the 15 district plan following next census, i.e, 20012 and another one which leaves implementation date open. The TASK-FORCE and the Haitian-American Community has sent a proposal to the Chair of the Charter Review Ad Hoc Committee to seek a 2004 implementation of the plan. Some Miami-Dade County commissioners like Kathy Sorenson who was critical in the beginning of the idea of Fair Representation has now changed her mind and is now supporting the Haitian Grassroots Coalition proposal for 2004.
On March 19, 2002, as several Haitian-American leaders were getting ready to speak before the Ways and Means Committee to oppose the 2012 implementation, if voters approves the November Referendum, the meeting was abruptly cancelled. At this time efforts are underway to get more community support. Florida legislators such as State Representative Phillip Brutus and Senator Kendrick P. Meek have endorsed the Grassroots Coalition proposal recommending the 2004 implementation. The Chair of the Charter Review Sub-Committee has directed the County Consultant to issue an opinion regarding the Coalition Plan drafted by the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta. The Coalition will sollicit an opinion as well from the Dade County Attorney Office in referrence to the mechanics of changing the number of commission districts.
In the meantime, the Coalition is in the process of preparing a discussion series throughout the County on the issue of Fair Representation. The First discussion series will be held on May 25, 2002 at the UPAC meeting coordinated by Commissioner Betty Ferguson whose action in federal court in 1993 resulted with single member district in Miami-Dade County. Though still uncommitted to the Coalition proposal, Ferguson was the Commissioner who recommended the drafting of a map for a possible Haitian-American District in November last year. The
map showing the possible Haitian-American district includes areas such as Little Haiti, North Miami and North Miami Beach. This map represents a working document subject to a lot of changes once the redistricting process begins.
Commissioner Dr. Barbara Carey Shuler offers a 14 district with implementation time for 2004
Commissioner Dr. Barbara Carey Shuler, Chair of the MIami-Dade County Charter REview Ad Hoc Sub-committee has offered a compromise to the plan presented by the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition which calls for 15 district plan with implementation time for 2004. Another proposal at the table is for 15 district plan for 2012 implementation. Once the Shuler Plan is drafted and presented to the Coalition, a compromise is likely to be reached. In the meantime, the topic is now part of the public debate in the African-American Community. On May 14, 2002, the County's Ways and Means Committee will meet to take action on the ballot questions for the November referendum.
The Coalition's Executive Board met recently with the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board in an effort to find common ground and facilitate a better dialogue between Haitian-Americans and the African-American Community. A prominent African-American leader in MIami stated that if this issue is not handled well, it may cause a civil war in the black community between Haitians and African-Americans, when it happens, it will not be good for either side. An Editorial published by Miami Times recently, the major African - American paper in Miami, has lauded the effort but cautions that it was important to study the Grassroots Coalition Plan carefully.
On June 4 2002 the Miami-Dade County Commission took action on the plan presented by the Coalition. Commissioner Dr. Barbara Carey Shuler who serves in District - III presented offered a proposal for a 14 district plan but she brought no plan at the table for discussion. Her colleague at the Commission was quick to reject her offer. Commissioner Betty Ferguson one of four black commissioners at the Commssion took the high ground and opposed any plan to increase the size of the commission by either 14 or 15 districts to allow fair representation. After all is done there is absolutely no guarantee that haitians will be having a representative of their choice at the table. This is gambling she concluded. By a vote of four for fair representation and 8 against it the Miami-Dade County Commission rejected the proposal of fair representation for minorities in the County. Ironically, the same night the Commision took action to allow one of the hispanic commissioners to change the boundaries of his districts in order to allow fair reprtesentation for citizens of his districts who were excluded from their original boundaries the last time the County approved its own redistricting plan in November 2001.
Although bitter by the County decision to deny the Grassroots Coalition request to increase the the size of the commission districts a Haitian-American is now challenging the African-American incumbent who is serving in District Commission - II where there is a large size of haitian nationals. Election will take place this September.
To obtain a copy of the Grassroots Coalition Plan send request to:
HAGC - Redistricting Task-Force
P.O BOx 381416
Miami, Fl. 33238