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Haitians at Sea_Asylum Denied[1]

Haitians at Sea_Asylum Denied[1]

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Published by Bill Frelick
Bill Frelick, Haitian refugees, interdiction, Haitian Migrant Interdiction Operation, Report on the Americas, NACLA, asylum
Bill Frelick, Haitian refugees, interdiction, Haitian Migrant Interdiction Operation, Report on the Americas, NACLA, asylum

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Published by: Bill Frelick on Jan 23, 2012
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01/23/2012

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Haitianrefugees.ByreturningHaitianstotheirhomeland,the
U.S.
governmentfloutstheprincipleof"firstasylum,"afoundationoftheinternationalsystemofrefugeeprotection.
R~,.;t
lJ..,~
A~
Immiration
BillFrelickisseniorpolicyanalystattheU.S.CommitteeforRefugeesinWashington.
REPORTONTHEAMERICAS
O
NNOVEMBER20,ATTHEFIRSTOFSEV-.eralcongressionalhearingsonU.S.policytowardHaitianrefugees,Rep.CharlesB.RangelCD-NY)con-frontedImmigrationandNaturalizationServiceCom-missionerGeneMcNary.TwodaysprevioustheCoastGuardhadbegunforciblyreturningHaitianscaughtflee-ingtheterrorunleashedagainstsupportersofdeposedPresidentJean-BertrandAristide."Isthereanyquestioninyourmind,"Rangelasked,"thatifthepeopleontheseboatscamefromIrelandwewouldexercisethesamepolicy,notwithstandingthelaw?
If
thesamesituationexistedinIrelandwiththisragtag,crooked,violentgroupofgangsterswhocallthemselvessoldiers,doyouthinkforoneminutethattheUnitedStatesofAmericawouldreturntheseIrishpeopletoIreland?""Congressman,"McNaryresponded,"that'sevenanoffensivequestion.WereturneveryonewhoissupposedtobereturnedunderthelawsoftheUnitedStatesofAmerica."Butjustwhattheselawssayhasbeenthesubjectofadrawn-outcourtbattlebetweenapresidentintentondemonstratinghe'stoughonimmigrants,andadvocateswhobelieverefugeerightsarebeingsacrificedtodomesticpolitics.Thefateofthemorethan27,000HaitianspickedupbytheUnitedStatesastheyfledtheircountryinsmallboatshunginthebalance.TheHaitianMigrantInterdictionOperationactuallybeganin1981whenRonaldReagansignedanagreementwithHaitiandictatorJean-ClaudeDuvalier.Hesubse-quentlyauthorizedtheCoastGuardtostopandboardvessels"offoreignnationswithwhomwehavearrange-ments,"andto"returnthevesselanditspassengerstothecountryfromwhichitcame,whenthereisreasontobelievethatanoffenseisbeingcommittedagainsttheUnitedStatesimmigrationlaws...providedthatnoper-sonwhoisarefugeewillbereturnedwithouthiscon-
sent."'
Bythetenthanniversaryofthisoperation,thedaybeforetheSeptember1991coup,atotalof24,559Hai-tianshadbeenpickedupininternationalwatersbytheU.S.CoastGuard.
2
Ofthatnumber,only28wereallowedtopursueasylumclaims.Curiously,onlyeightofthesewereadmittedduringtheDuvalierfamilydictatorshipandtheanti-democraticregimesthatsucceededit.During
Aristides
eight-monthtenure,eventhoughthenumberpickedupdroppeddramaticallyto1,312,theINSrecog-nized20potentiallylegitimateasylumclaims.'Forthefirstmonthafterthecoup,Haitiansstayedput.Aristidewouldreturn,maybetomorrow,perhapsthenext
 
day-sosaidtherumorscirculatingaroundtheHaitianstate:"Incasesoflarge-scaleinflux,asylumseekerscapitalofPort-au-Princeandtherestofthecountry.Butrescuedatseashouldalwaysbeadmitted,atleastonahedidn't.Instead,Haitianarmyandsecurityforcescon-temporarybasis."!OnNovember11,UNHCRcalledonductedlarge-scalesearchesforhissupporters.AmnestytheUnitedStatesto"allowalloftheindividualsnowonInternationalreportedthat"hundredsofpeoplehavebeenboard[U.S.CoastGuard]vesselstobedisembarkedinthebrutallyexecuted,ordetainedwithoutwarrantandtor-UnitedStatesandadmittedfordeterminationoftheirtured.Manyothershavebeenbrutallybeatenintherefugeestatus."ThatclearlywasnottheU.S.government'sstreets....ThemilitaryhassystematicallytargetedPresi-intention.dentAristide'spoliticalsupporters,...residentsofpoorerTheBushAdministrationbeganshoppingaroundtheareasofPort-au-Prince,...andthoseintheruralareas,Caribbeanformiddlemen,seekingtocreateanartificialwheremostofthepeoplesupportedPresidentAristide.?"tieroffirst-asylumcountries.Thechoices-Belize,Ven-EventheU.S.Embassynoted"crediblereportsofindis-ezuelaandHonduras-weredemonstrablylesswell-criminatekillings,policeharassment,illegalsearchesandequippedthantheUnitedStatestoshouldertheburden,lootingofprivatehomesandofradiostations,arrestsbuttheygenerouslytookinsomerefugees.These"dump-withoutwarrants,anddetentionofpersonswithoutchargesinggrounds,"however,provedlimited.Soafteraper-andmistreatmentofpersonsinthecustodyofHaiti'sdefunctoryscreening,theCoastGuardbeganreturningfactoauthorities."HaitianstoPort-au-Prince.Thefirsttwoboatloads,total-OnOctober4,inanunusualpublicmove,theInter-ing538people,disembarkedonNovember18and19.AmericanHumanRightsCommissionoftheOrganiza-tionofAmericanStates(OAS)urgedtheUnitedStatesforWITHINTWOHOURSOFTHESECONDhumanitarianreasons"tosuspenditspolicyofinterdic-offloading,aprotractedlegalbattlebegan.Re-tionofHaitiannationalswhoareattemptingtoseekspondingtoacomplaintfiledbytheHaitianRefugeeasylumintheUnitedStates."HaitiansshouldnotbeCenter(HRC)inMiami,JudgeDonald
L.
Grahamofthereturnedtotheircountry,theOASinsisted,"becauseofdistrictcourtforsouthernFloridaissuedatemporarythedangertotheirlives,untilthesituationhasbeenrestrainingordertopreventtheCoastGuardfromreturn-normalized.
"6
inganymorepeople.ThesuitclaimedthatthereturnofTheBushAdministration'sinitialresponselookedHaitiansviolatedReagan's1981executiveorder,whichhopefultorefugeeadvocates.TheUnitedStateswithdrewsaidexplicitlythat"noonewhoisarefugeewillbeitsambassadorandurgedU.S.citizensnottotraveltoreturned."TheHRCcomplaintrequestedaninjunctionHaiti.WashingtonjoinedtheOASincondemningthe"untiltheINShasfolloweditsownrulessettingforthcoupandrefusingtorecognizethedefactoregime.TheprocedurestoidentifyandprotectthosewhoarepotentialUnitedStatessupportedtheOASeconomicembargotorefugees."forcethemilitaryregimetorestoredemocracy."PresidentBushquicklyweighedinonNovember20.ByNovember,thousandsofHaitianswerefleeingby
"It
isafairpolicy,"hesaid,which"doesmakeadistinc-boat.AsCoastGuardcuttersbecamemoreandmoretionbetweeneconomicrefugeesandpoliticalrefugees.crowded,thegovernmentwascaughtinaquandary.
It
Butletmeassureyou,itisnotbasedonsomeraceorseemedreluctanttoreturntherefugeestoHaiti,yetithaddoublestandard."?Bush'sdistinctionbetweeneconomicnointerestinbringingthemtotheUnitedStatesinthemigrantsandpoliticalrefugeessettheparametersofthemidstofapresidentialcampaign.SotheHaitiansre-debateforthecomingmonths.Thedebaterevolvedaroundmainedonboardtheshipsinextremelycrampedcondi-theadequacyofthescreeningprocedure-whetherpoliti-tions.ByNovember10,some
'ofrhecutters
beganmoor-calrefugeeswerebeingscreenedoutaseconomicmi-ingattheU.S.baseinGuanranamo
Bay,
Cuba,wheregrants.make-shiftcampswereconstructedtohousetherefugees.DeterringmoreboatdeparturesappearedtobetheAtstakewastheprincipleof"firstasylum,"afounda-President'sprimeconcern.AmassexodusofHaitianstotionoftheinternationalsystemofrefugeeprotection.ThissouthFloridawouldnotplaywellinhisre-electionbattleconceptholdsthatcountriesimmediatelyborderingawithchallengersPatrickBuchananandDavidDuke,eachrefugee-producingstate-calledcountriesoffirstofwhomassumedastronganti-immigrant,"Americaasylum-areobligedtoacceptrefugeesuntiltherestofFirst"stand.'?theworldcanpitchinandhelp.Overtheyears,theUnitedTheanti-immigrantlobbywasquicktosoundtheStateshasinsistedthatsuchnationsasThailand,Malaysiaalarm."We'vegotanotherMarielboatliftinthemakingandZimbabwenottumawayrefugeesattheirborders.inHaiti,"saidDanStein,executivedirectorofthelargestSuddenly,theUnitedStatesfounditselfinthepositionofanti-immigrantadvocacygroup,theFederationforacountryoffirstasylum.AmericanImmigrationReform."It'salmostlike
deja
IftheUnitedStateshadfollowedestablishednorms,it
vu.
ThesimilaritiesbetweenCuba1980andHaiti1991wouldhaveallowedtheHaitianstolandandgiventhemareeerie.Alongwithahandfuloflegitimatepoliticaltheopportunitytoapplyforasylum.ThestatutesoftherefugeesisanarmyofeconomicmigrantswaitingtoUnitedNationsHighCommissiononRefugees(UNHCR)descendonsouthFlorida.WemadeamistakeinCubaand
-
VOLUMEXXVI.N.UMBERI(JULY1.992)
35

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