The Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, 62, an influential Haitian Roman Catholic priest who was once jailed in Haiti for his political activities and fought for his compatriots' rights in the United States, died Wednesday.
He died at a Miami-area hospital, said immigration attorney Ira Kurzban, who was a longtime friend. Mr. Jean-Juste's brother Kernst said he died of complications from a stroke and a lung problem.
Mr. Jean-Juste, who was born in Cavaillon, Haiti, came to the United States as a young man and founded the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami in the late 1970s.
When the U.S. government began to systematically deport Haitian immigrants, he fought to ensure they received due process for asylum consideration, Kurzban said, adding that it was in part his activism that enabled Haitian asylum-seekers to obtain work permits for the first time.
"He was a visionary," Kurzban said. "He dramatically helped change the law on political asylum through his grassroots work. What they were doing for Haitians, ultimately resulted in benefits for everyone."
Mr. Jean-Juste returned to Haiti in the early 1990s and was a prominent supporter of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He was often considered the Martin Luther King Jr. of Haiti in fighting for civil rights, giving impassioned sermons as an advocate for the poor.
After Aristide left the country during a bloody coup in 2004, the U.S.-backed interim government jailed Mr. Jean-Juste in connection with the killing of a prominent Haitian journalist and poet. International human-rights groups maintained the charges were politically motivated, and eventually the charges were dropped.
Later that year, Haitian officials allowed Mr. Jean-Juste to return to the United States to be treated for leukemia.