Haitian earthquake refugees to Guantánamo?

As US President Barack Obama sent thousands of troops to help with the rescue efforts in earthquake-stricken Haiti, Gen. Douglas Frazier, head of the Pentagon's Southern Command, indicated that the Naval medical facilities at Guantánamo Bay may be used to help with the relief efforts. Many of the refugees may be temporarily housed at Camp Justice, an area of the base where visitors such as reporters have generally stayed. The US State Department reported Jan. 13 that some injured Americans have already been transported to Guantanamo. (Jurist, Jan. 14)

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said deportations to Haiti would be halted "for the time being," without specifying a time period. Immigration officials said it was clear they could be putting Haitians' safety at risk by sending them back to a devastated country. About 30,000 Haitians in the US currently face deportation orders. (NYT, Jan. 13)

See our last posts on Haiti.

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Haitians at Gitmo

It has happened before. As Joseph Shahadi recalls on his blog Jan. 19:

After the overthrow of President Aristide in 1991 the Haitian army and other repressive groups within the country began to slaughter his supporters, causing a massive outflow of people from Haiti to the United States. Unable to simply return the fleeing Haitians because of the inevitability of political retaliation and acutely aware of how it would look if they did, the first Bush Administration re-directed them to a small island off of Cuba, which is held indefinitely by the United States: Guantanamo Bay.

A tent city was hastily erected at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay to house 12,000 Haitians and a massive review process was undertaken to judge their acceptability to enter the United States. A bit more than 30% of the Haitians originally held at Guantanamo were permitted to enter the United States, but they kept arriving and by 1992 the Bush Administration reconsidered the policy and began to circumvent the process by--once again--intercepting Haitian ships and escorting them back to Haiti, which had descended into lawlessness by that point. The Bush policy successfully discouraged Haitians from fleeing to the United States but human rights advocates criticized Bush's policies. During his presidential campaign Bill Clinton decried them as "cruel"; however, in the early stages of his Presidency when Haitian refugees once again began trying escape to the United States he reopened Guantanamo (which had closed) and employed it for the same purpose, reneging on his campaign promise to treat them differently. Further, the Clinton Administration championed new legislation that would allow it to reject the incoming Haitians wholesale despite the fact that they were fleeing political persecution, in direct conflict with the Refugee Act of 1980 which states that the Attorney General "shall not deport or return any alien" to a nation "if [s/he] determines that such alien's life or freedom would be threatened there". The justification for circumventing the Refugee Act was that it applied only to migrants on US soil, a bit of legal acrobatics that should seem familiar post- W. Of course there were objections to this legal maneuvering. In his (singular) dissenting opinion Justice Blackburn wrote,

"I believe that the duty of nonreturn expressed in both the Protocol and the statute is clear. The majority finds it 'extraordinary' that Congress would have intended the ban on returning 'any alien' to apply to aliens at sea. That Congress would have meant what it said is not remarkable. What is extraordinary in this case is that the Executive [meaning President Clinton], in disregard of the law, would take to the seas to intercept fleeing refugees and force them back to their persecutors and that the Court would strain to sanction that conduct."

Earlier, when Haitians were fleeing the Duvalier dictatorship in the '80s, several thousand were housed at Florida's Camp Krome. The later "America's Mayor" Rudolph Giuliani was the Justice Department official who headed the internment program at the time. Camp Krome was