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P. 1
Us Refugee Policy in the Caribbean No Bridge Over Troubled Waters[1]

Us Refugee Policy in the Caribbean No Bridge Over Troubled Waters[1]

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Published by Bill Frelick
Bill Frelick, Fletcher Forum on World Affairs, Caribbean migration, interdiction, Cuban refugees, Haitian refugees, asylum, asylum seekers, asylum-seekers, CPA, CIREFCA, INS, UNHCR, credible fear, Coast Guard, Guantanamo. safe haven
Bill Frelick, Fletcher Forum on World Affairs, Caribbean migration, interdiction, Cuban refugees, Haitian refugees, asylum, asylum seekers, asylum-seekers, CPA, CIREFCA, INS, UNHCR, credible fear, Coast Guard, Guantanamo. safe haven

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Published by: Bill Frelick on Jan 23, 2012
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07/30/2013

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u.s.
REFUGEEPOLICYINTHECARIBBEAN:
NOBRIDGEOVERTROUBLEDWATERS
BILLFRELICK---------
At
itsroot,
U'.S,
refugeepolicyintheCaribbeanhasbeenriddledwithpre-sumptions;foryears,allCubanswerepresumedtoberefugees;allHaitians,tobeeconomicmigrants.EvenasthepoliticalsituationinHaitideterioratedandpoliticalpersecutionbecameobvious,the
U'S,
government'sbiasholdingallHaitianstobeeconomicmigrantsseemedunassailable.ThisbiaswasnevershakenduringtheReaganandBushadministrations.Beforebecomingpresident,candidateBillClintonraisedhopesthathewouldbreakthispattern.Hebrandedas"cruel"theBushadministration'spolicyofinterdictingHaitiansonthehighseasandsummarilyreturningthemtoHaiti,andsaidthatafederalcourthad"madetherightdecision"whenitfoundthispolicytobeillegal.Ontheeveofhisinauguration,however,Clintonannouncedthathewouldadopthispredecessor'spolicy.Onceinoffice,hisadministrationreiteratedtheBushargumentforinterdictionandsummaryreturnwhenthecasewasappealedtotheSupremeCourt.Nevertheless,de-spitewinningcarteblanchefromtheCourttodojustthis,Clintonlaterre-versedcourse,decidingthatHaitiwas,infact,toodangerousaplacetoreturnthosefleeing.InJuly1994,hereopenedthe
U'S,
navalbaseatCuantanamoBay(ontheeasterntipofCuba)asasafehavencamp.'ButinJanuary1995,theU.S.governmentdeterminedthatitwassafeforalltoreturn.Reinstitut-ingapolicyofpresumptiveineligibility,theUnitedStatesrepatriatednearlyalloftheremainingHaitianasylumseekersheldatCuantanamo.Today,theClintonadministrationcontinues,essentiallyunchanged,thepreviouslylong-standingpracticeofinterdictingHaitianboatpeopleandsummarilyreturn-ingthemtoHaitiwithoutahearing.PresumptivestatusdeterminationshavealsocharacterizedU.S.refugeepolicywithrespecttoCubans.Forthreedecades,U.S.policypresumedallpersonsfleeingCubatoberefugeesandgavethemahero'swelcomeifthey
BillFre/ick
is
aSeniorPolicyAnalystattheU.S.CommitteeforRefugees,aprivate,humanitar-ianagency.He
is
co-editorof
RefugeeReports,
amonthlypublication,andhaswrittenexten-sivelyonrefugeeandasylumissues.Anearlierversionofthispaperwaspresentedatthe1995meetingoftheLatinAmericanStudiesAssociation,XIXCongress,inWashington,
DC.
TheFletcherForumofWorldAffairs,
Vol.20:2,Summer/Fall1996
 
68
THEFLETCHERFORUM
Summer/Fall1996
madeittosea,wheretheywererescuedandbroughttotheUnitedStates.Clintonreversedthispolicy,substitutinganegativepresumptionforaposi-tiveone.InAugust1994,inordertostopthemassiveoutflow,theClintonadministrationdeemedCubanrafters"illegalrefugees"andorderedtheCoastGuardtotakethemto
Cuantanamo,?
Forthenextsevenmonths,they-liketheHaitiansalreadythere-wereheldin"safehaven,"albeitbehindbarbedwireandguardtowers.TheCubansweretoldtheywouldnotbeadmittedtotheUnitedStatesandinformedthattheironlyoptionsweretoreturntoCubaproperandwaitinlineforprocessingasimmigrantsorrefugeesorputtheirnamesinahatforaspeciallotteryadmissionsprogram.
U'.S,
immigrationofficersdidnotattempttodeterminewhoamongtheraftersmightberefu-geeswithwell-foundedfearsofpersecution,forwhomresettlementintheUnitedStatesorothercountrieswouldrepresenttheonlyhumanesolution.Inonefellswoop,theClintonadministrationstooddecadesofU.S.refu-gee,humanrights,andforeignpolicyonitshead.Onitsface,thereversalofCubanrefugeepolicyinAugust1994appearedtoputCubansandHaitiansonamoreequitablefooting,introducingamodicumofconsistencyinthetreatmentofthesetwonationalitygroupsbytheUnitedStatesforthefirsttime.Buttherewereveryrealdifferencesinthecircumstancesofthesetworefugeegroups,openingfundamentalquestionsaboutwhetherthesafeha-venmodelthatmighthavemadesenseintermsofthepoliticalcircumstancesinHaitiappliedatalltotheCubansituation.Putsimply,HaitiisnotCuba.ThesituationinsideHaitiwasfluid,andtheU.S.governmentwaswillingtocommittheresourcesnecessarytoeffectpoliticalchangesinHaitisufficienttoconvincemostoftheHaitiansatCuantanamotoreturn.Cubawasstatic;thesituationofchronicrepressionandeconomicstagnationthatcausedmostoftheCubanrafterstoleavewasnotlikelytoimproveintheforeseeablefuture.Eachsituationdemandeditsownresponse;alternativemodelsshouldhavebeenexaminedthatwouldhavebetteraddressedthespecificneedsarisingfromthedifferentpoliticalsituationsineachcountrywhileprovidingbetterscreeningmechanismstodistinguishbetweenthosemigrantstrulyinneedofprotectionandthosewhocouldreturnhomewithoutriskofpersecution.Yet,theClintonadministrationchosetoreplicatetheHaitiansafehavenmodelforCubanswithoutmuchregardforeitherthedifferencesinthepoliticalcon-ditionsineachcountryorforthedifferencesbetweenindividualmigrants.CuantanamowasalreadyinoperationfortheHaitiansanditappearedeasytoexpandtheoperationforonemoregroup;itseemedaneconomicalwayofhandlingthenewrefugeeflow,becausemuchoftheinfrastructurewasal-readyinplace.
It
didnotworkthatway.FollowingacomparisonofU.S.policytowardHaitiansandCubans,thisessaywillexaminetwoalternativemodelsofrefugeemanagementthathavebeensuccessfulinthepastandthatshouldhavebeenconsideredbytheUnit-edStates.OneisespeciallyapplicabletotheHaitiansituationandtheotherismostrelevantforCuba.Bothofthesealternativemodelsdifferentiatebetween
 
u.s.
REFUGEEPOLICYINTHECARIBBEAN
69
differenttypesofmigrantsandtheirreasonsforflightandassessthelikeli-hoodoftheirsafetyuponreturn.Personsfleeingshouldnotautomaticallybeassumedtobeeithereligibleorineligibleforrefugeestatusandresettlementsimplybecauseoftheircountryoforigin.Nevertheless,allmigrantsshouldbeaccordedfair,adequate,andequalscreeningproceduresthattakeintoac-counttheirindividualcircumstancesaswellasthepoliticalandeconomicconditionsintheirhomestates.Implementationofpoliciesbasedonthealter-nativemodelsdiscussedwouldallowfortherepatriationofasmanymigrantsaspossiblewhileensuringthatthosewithrealfearsofpersecutionwerenotforciblyreturned.TheHaitian"SafeHaven"ApproachinCuantanamoTheClintonadministrationfinallysettledupontheideaofasafehavenfortheHaitiansafterhavingunsuccessfullytriedseveralotherpolicyapproach-es.ClintoninitiallymaintainedtheBushpolicyofinterdictionandsummaryreturn.Next,inJune1994,ClintondecidedthattheImmigrationandNatural-izationService(INS)shouldenditsnegativepresumptionaboutHaitianre-questsforrefugeestatusandlookateachclaimonacase-by-casebasis.HethoughtthiscouldbedoneaboardashipsittinginKingstonHarbor,Jamaica.The
USNSComfort
wasquicklyoverwhelmedwithrefugeeclaimants,howev-er,andadjudicatorsworkingaroundtheclockwereunabletokeepupwiththenumbers;thisattempttoconductfullrefugeeadjudicationsaboardshipwasquicklyterminated.UnwillingtobringtheseinterdictedHaitianstotheUnitedStates(wheretheycouldhaveavailedthemselvesoflegalcounselandfulldueprocess,nottomentionbeingabletorest,findthesupportoffamilyandfriends,anddocumenttheirrefugeeclaims),theadministrationfounditselfinaquandary.Ontheonehand,itrecognizeditsinabilitytokeepupwithindividualadjudicationsaboardshipinthecontextofamassoutflow;ontheotherhand,itacknowledgedthatthewidespreadnatureofhumanrightsviolationsinHaitiandthecountry'sfluidandvolatilepoliticalsitua-tionappearedtomakesummarilyreturningHaitianasylumseekersuntena-ble.Havingrunoutofotheroptions,theadministrationofferedwhatineffectamountedtonearlyblanketprotectiontoalltheHaitiansdetainedatCuantana-mo,withoutscreeningforrefugeestatus.Thelackofscreeningcutbothways:whiletheHaitianswouldnotbere-turnedautomaticallytotheircountry,norwouldtheybeofferedtheoptionofenteringtheUnitedStatesasrefugees(ashadbeencontemplatedinship-boardprocessing)ortopursueasylumclaims(ashadbeentheBushadmin-istrationpolicyfromthetimeoftheoverthrowofAristideuntilMay1992).3
It
wasclearlyconveyedtotheHaitiansatCuantanamothattheywouldneverberesettledintheUnitedStatesand,soonerorlater,thattheywouldreturn-orbereturned-toHaiti.UponarrivalatCuantanarno,groupsofabout30HaitiansatatimeweremarchedintoahangarofftheMcCallaairfieldwhereINSpersonnelwouldgreetthemusingthefollowingscript:

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