Haitian refugees a "security threat" held in detention for over 10 months.

by Nirit Ben-Ari, Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT

For years, Haitian refugees detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) have been reptriated upon landing at US shores–unlike Cuban refugees, who are granted political asylum automatically upon arrival. Cubans are allowed to apply for residency after one year and one day under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. (Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Media Alert, March 21)

Following the arrival by boat of 219 Haitian refugees in October 2002, a request came in March 2003 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to Attorney General John Ashcroft to block their asylum for national security reasons. The request, directed only at asylum-seekers from Haiti, keeps the refugees in detention for an indefinite period, while their claims are processed–which can take months.

Attorney General Ashcroft, in his administrative decision, said "the State Department asserts that it has noticed an increase in third country nations (Pakistanis, Palestinians, etc.) using Haiti as a staging point for attempted migration to the United States."

According to a State Department spokesperson, the information was based on US embassy reports in Haiti and interdiction trends at sea, but officials would not release the documents or provide details about what led officials to their conclusion. (Miami Herald, April 25)

Ninety-three of those Haitians intercepted in October were deported in the months following the Attorney’s General decision, while 32 of them remain in detention. Fifty-four have been granted political asylum; however two men are still held behind bars despite having been granted asylum by a federal judge. Immigration officials have ruled that the men should remain in detention while the government appeals the asylum ruling. Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, Inc., told WW3 REPORT it was "unprecedented" that refugees who are granted political asylum in this country remain in detention.

"America’s supposed to welcome someone who is a refugee," said Gabriel Joseph, one of the two men, from the Krome detention center in Florida. "it’s four months ago that they gave me asylum and they still keep me in prison." Rochenel Charles, the second person, said, "I got saved. I got to America. I got asylum. Why am I still in prison?" (New York Times, July 25)

On August 25, seventeen more Haitians were caught in boat off Palm Beach County. Four men and three unaccompanied minors are being held in Krome detention center, one woman is in the hospital recovering from dehydration, one woman is being held in the Work Release Center in Broward County, FLA, and two familes, of four people each, are at Krome Detention Center as well. Bastien told WW3 REPORT that her organization opposes their planned transfer to Pennsylvania because the detainees will be far away from their support system and extended familes. All of those kept in detention are subject to the Attorney General’s March administrative decision.

Bastien told WW3 REPORT that it is the first time that national security has been used to justify restrictive actions against Haitian nationalities. Before, she said, the INS used to justify its racist policies against Haitians by citing fears of mass exodus from Haiti to the United States. 9-11 provided a new excuse–namely terrorist threats to national security. "It is laughable to believe that terrorists are using shiftmade boats from Haiti packed with black refugees as a cover to sneak into the United States," Bastien said.

Humanitarian situation detoriates in Haiti

For over three years the United States and other international donors have blocked finanical aid desparately needed in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. In June, $146 million was released in loans that will be used for water, health, road and education projects. And in July, the Haitian government was granted loans of almost $220 million by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The money was held up after Haiti’s disputed legislative elections in May 2000. (Miami Herald, July 25)

Other aid is still tied up. The World Bank has pulled out of Haiti and will not resume its loan program, and the European Union terminated its 14 million-euro budget support grant in 2001, until Haiti complies with an IMF plan and reaches a political settlement. (Miami Herald, July 10)

The opposition parties and the Organization of American States (OAS) disputed the way Haiti counted the votes for seven seats in the Senate. However, on Aug. 9 the US issued a statement that if Haiti carries out its intention to hold elections this fall, the vote wouldn’t get the recognition of the United States. A day before the statement, the head of Haiti’s electoral council, Alix Lamarque, announced the country was preparing for a first round of legislative elections in November. The US disapproves of holding elections that don’t comply with an OAS-brokered agreement. (Voice of America, June 9)