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If the Bush administration wants a ready-made subject to polish its humanitarian bonafides, all it need do is look out to sea from Florida's south shore.

No, not Cuba. Haiti. The unwanted, unruly, unbelievably poor stepchild of the Western Hemisphere. If ever there were a neighbor in need of a sympathetic ear and a helping hand from Uncle Sam, it's Haiti. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

When a boatload of Haitians anchored off the coast of Miami . . . TV cameras recorded people jumping into the water and scrambling across a busy highway. Clearly, these were people for whom the risks of a trip across the sea in a suspect craft were worth the freedom available in America. It was a perfect opportunity for some savvy White House operative to point out to those who preach hatred of America that millions of others still regard it as the land of opportunity.

Instead, the Immigration and Naturalization Service rounded up all the Haitians - hundreds of men, pregnant women and women with toddlers - and took them to a detention center. There . . . they will be detained indefinitely until interviews determine they should be sent back to Haiti. . . .

This policy applies only to Haitian boat people, not Cubans or Colombians or any others who show up on U.S. shores seeking to escape persecution in their homeland. . . .

It is a foolish, punishing, discriminatory policy. . . .

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