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Excerpted From: Joyce A. Hughes and Linda R. Crane, Haitians: Seeking Refuge in the United States, 7 Georgetown Immigration Law Journal 747 (December 1993) (335 Footnotes) (Full Document)

JoyceAHughesLindaCraneAlthough the United States ranks high in a comparison of the ratio of refugees admitted to a nation's total population, its treatment of Haitians seeking refuge has not been compassionate. The United States has taken the harsh, unprecedented actions of interdiction and repatriation against Haitians alone. No other country has interdicted fleeing migrants on the high seas and repatriated them to their country of origin. Indeed, Haiti is the only country in the world with which the United States has an agreement permitting interdiction and repatriation. Haitians are significantly prejudiced by the policy. Unlike other aliens, who “disappear” into the United States when paroled after arrival, interdicted and repatriated Haitians are never permitted to enter the United States. Undocumented aliens who reach the United States are able to prolong their stay in this country while waiting for asylum hearings. Additionally, aliens are allowed to remain in the United States for extended periods of time pending the outcome of appeals from a denial of refugee status. Since asylum claimants are permitted to work in the United States, their parole obtains them months and even years to be gainfully employed. Haitians who are interdicted and repatriated never have the opportunity to pursue claims for asylum. Thus, interdiction of Haitians on the high seas not only returns them to the country from which they felt forced to depart, but it also deprives them of the opportunity to petition for asylum and to be paroled into the United States while legal proceedings are pending.

This Article concentrates on recent United States policy regarding Haitian refugees, a policy which has been criticized as being racist and discriminatory. Haitians constitute only a small portion of illegal aliens, yet there have been extraordinary efforts to keep them out of the United States. This effort at exclusion should be viewed against the background of foreign intervention, including by the United States, into Haiti. Haiti, and United States involvement in its affairs, is briefly described in Section II.

Section III summarizes governing immigration law and asylum principles and policies. It points out that the distinction between political persecution and economic hardship has been applied to the Haitians' detriment and that the Attorney General's parole authority previously was used as a political admissions device.

Section IV demonstrates the hostility to Haitians evidenced by United States policy, including: asylum decisions beginning in the 1970s; the “Haitian Program” in the late 1970s; detention starting in the 1980s; interdiction under President Reagan's program, which began with a 1981 Executive Order; President Bush's 1992 Kennebunkport Order for repatriation of Haitians without any screening for asylum; and Clinton's support of the Bush policy after he became president in 1993.

The treatment of Haitians seeking asylum is compared with Cubans, Salvadorans, and Chinese in Section V, which concludes that Haitians have not been extended any of the benefits given to aliens from those countries.

The United States Supreme Court decision in Sale v. Haitian Centers Council, Inc. is discussed in Section VI. That decision allowed the United States to interdict Haitians on the high seas and repatriate them to the country from which they fled, notwithstanding a United Nations policy of nonrefoulment, or nonreturn, of refugees. Section VII calls for an attitude toward Haitians which treats them as other aliens are treated.

Finally, Section VIII concludes that like others fleeing persecution, Haitians should be permitted to seek refuge in the United States.

[. . .]

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

It is estimated that up to 500,000 illegal immigrants settle in the United States each year, and that over 200,000 people are awaiting asylum determinations. Haitians are not the cause of United States immigration problems, and repatriation has not solved those problems. To treat Haitians differently than other refugees is not defensible. Like others, Haitians should be free to seek refuge in the United States.